It’s official – a mobile-enabled ‘always on’ work culture is elevating occupational stress to unprecedented levels. So what can employers do about it?
When SafeWork Australia released its first report on work-related mental stress almost three years ago, it reported that “the loss of productivity and absence of workers (resulting from stress) is costing Australian businesses more than $10 billion per year”.
Fast-forward to 2016, and 28.1% of organisations responding to Ai Group’s latest Absenteeism and Presenteeism Survey have expressed the belief that workplace stress has increased in the last year – almost double the result from last year’s survey. It may be time for SafeWork Australia to revisit its figures.
And far from being an Australian phenomenon, rising workplace stress is going global. An American index measuring workplace trends last year revealed that more than half of all employees reported being “overworked or burnt out”. The most frequently cited reasons included workload (53%), personal pressures employees put on themselves to perform (41%) and time pressures (40%).
Half of those survyed didn’t even feel they could take a break, with just as many admitting to eating their lunch on the job.
“Too much email” was another common complaint – something also highlighted by a UK study released in January, which found 62% of workers left their email on all day. Checking email early in the morning and late at night was a habit linked to higher levels of stress and pressure.
It’s a challenge for any responsible employer and one with major repercussions in terms of productivity – not to mention staff retention and engagement. So short of shutting down your email server after-hours, what can you be doing to reduce stress in your workplace?
Here’s five good places to start:
- Take a good look at yourself
Stress is a complex topic, so it’s important to address a wide range of factors when considering the process of reducing stress. Conduct a review of your organisational mechanisms and thoroughly examine some key questions. Does your workplace:
- Have senior management commitment to reduce workplace stress?
- Consult with workers to create and promote a mentally healthy workplace culture?
- Use validated risk assessment processes?
- Ensure the organisation has appropriate policies and procedures in place and workers are aware of these?
- Provide regular and respectful performance feedback to the workforce?
- That word: culture
Here’s another tough question: is your workplace a workplace of choice? Providing workers with variety, opportunity, and rewards for good work is an essential component in a high-performing and stress-free workplace.
- Implement a Health and Wellbeing Program
While we’re on the subject of workplace culture, it’s hardly surprising that the Best Practice Guidelines of the Workplace Health Association Australia suggest that a healthy workplace is generally a happy and socially inclusive workplace. Workplace health and wellbeing programs help to improve physical and mental wellbeing, improve resilience and increase concentration and productivity. They also assist in improving team relationships and employee engagement.
- The physical space
Creating a professional, functional and comfortable environment at work will assist in keeping your people happy and productive. Why not review the lighting in your workplace and add some fresh design; liven up your lunch room by applying a new coat of paint; implement sit-stand work stations to break long periods of sitting; ensure controlled temperature and adequate ventilation; and make sure you’re providing the right tools for the job!
- Bolster prevention and support strategies
Actively promoting employee assistance programs (EAP) can encourage workers to seek assistance when they need it:
- Check out the Heads Up initiative;
- Promote the beyond blue support service hotline: 1300 22 46 36; and
- Promote the Lifeline support service: 13 11 14.
Do you agree that stress is increasing in your workplace? And can you add to our list of measures to address the problem? Please leave your comments below.
Ai Group in South Australia is facilitating a ‘Healthy Workers Healthy Futures‘ initiative targeted at businesses in the manufacturing sector. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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