The depth of the problem in the UK is alarming. More than a quarter of employees say they feel stressed at work all, or most of the time, with 21 per cent taking work home at least one to two times a week to ease the pressure when they are at their desks.
While many will swear by the phrase ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’, this only works up to a point. According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, developed in 1908 by psychologists Robert M Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson, as stress levels rise, so does productivity. However, if stress levels become too high, performance becomes impaired.
There are a number of factors that cause workplace stress but the biggest culprits are unrealistic deadlines, pressure from above and lack of support. Long hours, pointless meetings and moody colleagues also rank high in the office stress ranks.
The worry is that if these pressures are not addressed, they will not only have a negative impact on employee health, but also on business performance. As many as one in 12 admit that they have shouted at a colleague as direct result of stress, while 3.4 per cent have thrown something across the room and two per cent said they have sworn in front of a client or customer.
This is where business owners and senior management must take responsibility. Many companies have slipped into a culture where employees are expected to work all hours at any cost. Of course, there will be times when employees are required to go above and beyond, but this 24/7 culture is simply not sustainable.
While the current economic climate can make it hard for employers to justify another pair of hands, there are simple steps that can be taken to ensure productivity is kept at its optimum level and problems are identified and dealt with early.
The taboo surrounding stress at work must be dispelled. Employees need to feel they are able to voice concerns without the fear that senior staff will see them as ‘weak’ or ‘not up to the job’. It is crucial that a strong support network is available – mentors and buddies can be an effective way to build trust so employees feel there is someone to turn to.
Speaking regularly with your team to identify pressure points, and being more flexible with resourcing are also ways to limit problems. One team may be really stretched, while another is in a period of relative calm, so assessing whether a person can be loaned to help cover the busy period can be a cost-effective way to manage workloads.
No one is immune to stress. And businesses that do not address stress in the workplace, run the risk in losing productivity due to absenteeism or potentially talent if staff seek employment elsewhere. It’s hard to change a business culture overnight, but the results could do wonders for productivity and profit.
David Saul is managing director at Business Environment, a leading serviced office provider.