Almost half of all working days lost during 2016 to 2017 were due to personal stress. As the highest reported figure in almost a decade, it’s clear that there’s a growing problem.
Almost every piece of research into the causes of personal stress lists work as the primary factor. The government makes provision for this via health and safety legislation which states that employers have a responsibility to manage workplace stress.
But what about causes of personal stress outside the workplace? As an employer, are you responsible for helping employees counteract the effects of these stressors?
We take a look at why you should be concerned about non-work stress and the steps you can take to mitigate it.
What Are the Biggest Stressors Outside Work?
Research from the physiological society established that in 2017, the most stressful events that could take place in an individual’s life were:
- the death of their partner, a relative or friend
- fire or flood damage to an individual’s home
- serious illness
- being fired
- separation or divorce
- identity theft
- unexpected money problems
- starting a new job
- planning a wedding
The research also showed that different problems impact different generations differently. Take the loss of a smartphone. This is rated as the 14th most stressful life event overall. However, when you look at the data by age group, it’s considered far more stressful by younger people than for seniors.
In contrast, serious illness is more concerning the older people get.
While there’s no requirement for employers to take steps to minimise personal stress, there are plenty of compelling business reasons to do so. The International Labour Organization notes that stress – and subsequent productivity loss – costs Europe around €617 billion each year.
Aside from the economic impact, stress often presents in employees as:
- an inability to sleep
- disrupted concentration
Concerningly for business owners, personal stress leads to almost one third of staff being less productive at work while 22% report feeling disengaged from their work. And more than one in ten say stress causes them to take days off sick.
Which means many things for employers:
- Business risk – lack of sleep has been one of the major causes of industrial accidents including the Chernobyl disaster and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
- Additional cost – unexpected sick days disrupt work and can be costly for businesses.
- More recruitment – longer term sickness absence means recruiting additional temporary headcount. Alternatively, firms can ask other team members to pick up more work although this can ratchet up their stress levels too.
- Under-delivery – disengagement and poor performance also has a direct impact on the effectiveness of your business.
This means that choosing to only manage workplace stress is short-sighted.
Without legal requirements in place, the extent to which you support employees to live healthy lives outside of work is entirely up to you. But the more you can do for your people, the more they’ll be able to do for your business.
There are plenty of ways to support employee well-being. Here are just a few examples.
Employee Assistance Programmes
This cost-effective benefit provides employees with over-the-phone or online assistance for a range of problems including legal issues, parenting and health. Many providers also give employers the option to add face-to-face counselling sessions for employees.
The costs tend to be fairly low; about £14 per employee for a comprehensive plan and £2-3 for telephone-based support only. When an employee is in dire straits, having this service on-hand is of enormous benefit.
In some cases simply having someone to talk to can prevent an employee going off sick. Or, if they do need some time away, the counselling or advice services can bring them back to work more quickly.
Financial pressures impact every age group. However, they are particularly pressing for millennials who are combating high levels of student and personal debt along with inflated rent and low income. All without the life experience to help counteract these pressures.
Other employee groups may also have financial concerns, particularly if they’re saving to buy a house, starting a family or approaching retirement.
Many businesses now offer financial education programmes that help employees find ways to manage their money better. This puts people in control and reduces their stress levels.
Depending how far you want to go, you may decide to provide flexible benefits packages that can be used to direct money to where individual’s most need it.
For example, instead of automatically sending any additional pension contribution (on top of the auto-enrolment minimum) direct to pension schemes, you could:
- give employees the option to direct this money to a savings pot
- send it off to pay off a student loan
- or add it to salary to increase income while saving ahead of the birth of a child for example
This kind of flexibility will provide options that will help all employees address their financial concerns.
Once upon-a-time, flexible working was a standout employee benefit. But today it’s a must-have for modern businesses. Consider how you could find ways to enable staff to fit work around their lives. This could include offering flexitime or giving people the option (and technology) to work from home
Ever woken up and felt like you needed to stay in bed all day? That’s exactly why duvet days exist. This benefit allows employees to call in, or book ahead, to take a day off in addition to their holiday allowance.
This permits employees to rest mind and body while you get a refreshed employee back at work with their head in the right place.
You can have the most supportive policies in the world but if employees don’t feel able to use them they won’t benefit anyone. Ensuring your business operates a caring culture that places employee well-being ahead of the business will ensure your business succeeds.
A Final Word From Mary Queen of Shops on Personal Stress
Mary Portas, business expert and agency founder, says that to be successful:
“Businesses have to be kinder … Tomorrow’s businesses will be built on collaboration and understanding, and people will bring their whole selves to work, and not aim for profit at all costs.”
This means that trying to ignore your employees wider lives – and the stresses within them – will have negative implications for your organisation.
So, take a long hard look at your personal stress management practices and see what else you could do to completely support your employees.