2016: The year of stress at work

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:

  1. 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?
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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: hwhf@aigroup.com.au.

The following two tabs change content below.
Graham Turner is the former Editor of Ai Group's Industry magazine, which ceased publication in 2014. He now edits (and moderates) this Blog, together with Ai Group's weekly Email newsletter.


  1. Lisa Hawkins

    I started a corporate concierge service, quite simply because I was always overwhelmed by the stress caused not just at work but also outside factors. Having 2 children and a husband working away from home, while I worked full time, placed a lot of time constraints directly onto me. In all honesty, presenteeism and absenteeism were an issue and I saw directly that there was a need within workplaces to have that extra helping hand for employees tasks that still need to be done but aren’t directly work related. If I could scream it to the world how important offering a concierge service within companies is, I would.

  2. Martin Fout

    Very alluring and scholastic piece. Stress is a very drastic thing. It causes fast heartbeat, headache, a stiff neck and tight shoulders, back pain, sweating, upsetting of stomach. Sometimes it causes to heart diseases.Stress Should really be controlled otherwise it can destruct the life of a person.
    Keep posting this kind of articles..

  3. Nia Greenwood

    Great article! Stress is the illness of this millennium and we should seek for ways to reduce it since it affects badly our health, it impacts the relations between family members and friends, it causes psychological issues and discomfort. I’ve noticed that one of the most helpful things you can do to reduce stress at work is to make your desk/office space a nice and comfortable place, where you feel good and your tasks run smoothly. Since I made a general cleaning up of my desk and organized the mess, which included piles of paper, office supplies and knick-knacks, I can say the whole experience changed for good. Clutter impacts your senses and your mind a big way! So this is my advice – tidy up your desk, sort what’s on top of it, get rid of all excess, unnecessary staff and you’ll suddenly feel freedom and serenity, I guarantee that!

    1. Graham Turner (Post author)

      Many thanks for your comment Nia – I agree that an uncluttered workplace makes for an uncluttered mind. My Blog provided employers with a list of ideas to reduce stress in the workplace; perhaps it’s a good idea to produce a follow-up Blog about what employees can do for themselves to alleviate stress. Would anybody else like to make some suggestions for a ‘Top5 Things Employees can do to reduce stress at work’? Add your comments here!

  4. Yvonne Lockwood

    Excellent article; I concur and believe the model of any business is wrong if staff are working too many long-hours (death by e-mails are killing business), weekend work has to be the exception not the rule and I am the business owner! Our businesses have become far too complex and reducing complexity is an active pursuit of business excellence. The best thing I ever did was have an open office, it has resulted in creating a more harmonious environment, with plants. Creating a workplace of respect is critical. Finally Managers/Business owners should not be scared of tackling poor performance some staff are milking and attached to “stress”, some stress is good for us – it gets us out of bed in the morning !

    1. Graham Turner (Post author)

      Many thanks for your comment Yvonne – you make some great points. Certainly, reducing complexities would seem to be a key factor, and policies and practices regarding weekend work / after-hours work need to be reviewed, as well as business communication mechanisms. The design of the workplace really is beginning to have strong links to the reduction of stress and the creation of a happy and productive environment – and it seems like you have tackled this well!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.