April celebrates Stress Awareness Month – the opportunity to increase awareness on this important topic
Why should organisations take notice?
At this point in time the obvious answer is Covid-19 and the ramifications this pandemic has on our stress levels. Reasons to take notice run even deeper than that – when we look at the past year in the workplace and the months to come. In the last year 37% of respondents in a CIPD and Simply Health survey, have seen an increase in stress related absence. The relevance is when stress is left un-managed it can act as a risk factor and contributor to mental health conditions. From the same survey the last year saw a 60% increase in mental health conditions. This figure is high for several reasons some of which are people are slowly feeling able to talk about their mental health in the workplace but also the stress levels which are unmanaged.
To this end employers are stepping up their efforts to empower staff with wellbeing knowledge and foster mentally health workplaces.
“Our findings show that stress continues to be one of the main causes of short- and long-term absence. A minority of people professionals report their organisation had no stress-related absence in their organisation over the last 12 months, showing how prevalent work-related stress is in UK workplaces. Despite a small decrease this year in the proportion of organisations including stress among their most common causes of long-term absence, nearly two-fifths of respondents report that stress-related absence has increased in their organisation over the last year” CIPD Simply Health
What is stress and how does it differ from anxiety?
This graph below offers a great description of how stress impacts our everyday performance. An Austrian endocrinologist called Hans Selye is responsible for this diagram. Hans informed us that we need a certain level of stress to be able to perform and function well. When we reach the top of this graph, where you work at your personal best is called Optimal Performance and this is a range which is different for everyone. Some of us work better to the left of the curve and others who seemingly thrive on stress work well to the right of the curve.
Of course, there are times in life when the pressure is on like projects being due, moving to a new house, life events and more recently the global pandemic COVID-19. People end up working to the far right of the curve in the Strong Anxiety zone, which is maybe ok for short periods of time but it’s not sustainable.
How can organisations manage this better?
What we do consistently on a day to day basis will gradually nudge us up to the zone where we work well (Optimal Performance). Staying in the Strong Anxiety zone for too long means stress can become counteractive and this is when we experience the likes of anxiety disorders/burn out/mental health conditions.
People spend a third of their lives in the workplace, so employers need to consider ways they support and empower their employees to look after their wellbeing. Its not just about changing to healthier lifestyles, it needs to be part of the wider business culture.
If your organisation doesn’t already have a wellbeing strategy in place, it’s a good time to start, remember to think holistically across all areas that affect employee wellbeing including; Mental and emotional, Physical, Work life balance, Purpose, Happy talk, Leadership resilience, Health of your wealth. Adopting a more strategic approach is useful in gauging the effectiveness of the organisations overall time, effort and investment.
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