The cost of stress at work – can you afford to ignore it?

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that in 2016, 137.3 million working days were lost to sickness or injury in the UK.  Of these, stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 7.7%. (‘Serious Mental Health Problems’ were counted in a separate category) That’s over a million days lost.

The cost of this isn’t purely financial, there are also other impacts which are often more difficult to quantify.  These include high staff turnover, lack of productivity and low levels of motivation and morale amongst teams, along with the risk of longer-term and serious mental health and physical wellbeing issues.

Stress is often now seen as an inevitability.  A recent survey in the not-for-profit sector showed 79% of staff stating stress is a fact of life in their work and 46% saying they feel stressed all or most of the time.  Just check back on those figures again – nearly 4/5ths accept stress as a fact of life and nearly half feel stressed all or most of the time.

Having managed teams for over 20 years, I know that circumstances, often out of our control, can have a negative impact on staff and teams.  My own past experience of suffering severe stress and seeing the effects on others drives me to do what I do, to ensure people have as positive a working life as possible.  After all, we spend so much of our time at work and many of you will know that negative experiences at work frequently spill over into our personal lives.

I believe there are two issues to address here – communication and responsibility.  The responsibility for work-place wellbeing lies with everyone.  With the employee to flag up any issues and difficulties and to be willing to take positive action to resolve these.  With the employer/manager to truly acknowledge difficulties and challenges faced by the staff team and to be willing to give genuine, positive support and assistance where needed.

As a coach, I often find that a recurring barrier to a positive working life is lack of communication.  Employees often don’t speak to their managers about their difficulties for a variety of reasons, for example being afraid of damaging career prospects, appearing incompetent, or even negative past experiences.  Everyone makes assumptions that staff/managers ‘should know‘.  A recent report called Thriving at Work, recommends employers encourage better communication and involvement and routinely monitor employees’ mental health and wellbeing.  Remember, ‘monitor’ isn’t about forms and clipboards, it could be as simple as a manager taking time out to ask employees genuinely how things are going and being prepared to take supportive and positive actions to resolve any difficulties.  Lack of communication can become self-perpetuating, whereas building positive communication and problem-solving approaches can produce a ‘virtuous cycle’ of increased engagement, wellbeing and productivity.

Karen Amos is the owner of BrightBird Coaching & Training.  She is a qualified Executive and Professional Development coach and trainer.

Want to know more?  Check  out BrightBird’s open training workshops on Manage Stress and Build Personal Resilience and also Time Management and Work-Life Balance.  To find out more and to book, please click on the link –

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