It is certainly a very expensive problem. Figures from Thriving at Work, an independent review of mental health and employers by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, show that stress costs the economy between £74bn ($97.3bn, €84.1bn) and £99bn a year, with employers picking up between £33bn and £42bn of this bill.
It is also a universal problem. Research conducted across 23 markets for the 2018 Cigna 360° Well-Being Survey found that 87% of people are stressed. But while nearly three-quarters (71%) of these said it was manageable, more than one in six (15%) said they couldn’t cope.
The results are particularly alarming for the UK, with the country ranked as the fifth worst for unmanageable stress levels, behind only the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Korea.
"Understanding how to manage stress in your workplace could turn into a sound business opportunity"
Understanding what causes stress in the workplace can help tackle this problem. In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive has identified six causes of work-related stress: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change.
Take control as an example: if an employee has little or no control over the amount of work they are given, when they need to finish it or how they can do it, it is understandable that this can lead to stress.
No employer willingly puts a member of staff under undue pressure, but it is also important to recognise that workplace stress is not only caused by what we do between nine and five. Personal issues outside of the workplace, such as divorce, debt and caring responsibilities, can cause stress, with few of us able to leave this emotional turmoil at the office door.
When it comes to tackling stress, early intervention is key. Being able to identify the initial warning signs of stress in an employee – or yourself – can ensure appropriate action is taken to prevent the problem becoming more serious.
Stress manifests itself in a variety of different ways: an employee might be taking more time off or arrive for work later than normal; it could also affect their mood, making them more withdrawn, argumentative or emotional.
Having the right support in place for these employees is essential. but also something they really want to see in the workplace. The 2018 Cigna 360° Well-Being Survey found that just over one-third (35%) of employees want their employers to offer stress management – making it the number-one employee insurance benefit request, ahead of more traditional benefits such as dental and vision care.
Stress management support can be provided through a variety of benefits, including employee assistance programmes and private medical insurance. With the latter, it is important to check what cover is available.
While most plans include a benefit for mental health treatment, some make it easier for employees to get the care they need. For example, Cigna was one of the first health insurers to offer a self-referral pathway to enable employees to access support and care without the need for a GP referral.
Well-being benefits can also help. These could include resilience training to help employees deal with stress but also ‘softer’ benefits, such as massages, mindfulness sessions and gym membership, which can boost mental health.
It’s also sensible to raise awareness of stress in the workplace, because this can create a supportive culture where employees feel able to ask for help. Training line managers to identify the early signs of stress is important but introducing emotional well-being champions can also ensure employees have someone to turn to if they are struggling.
Helping your business
Looking after your own employees’ emotional well-being will reap significant benefits. As well as the potential for increased productivity and lower absence rates, taking a proactive approach to managing workplace stress can make you an employer of choice.
Cigna’s research found 68% of employees say that a workplace wellness programme can influence job selection, with this figure jumping to 73% among millennials.
What’s more, understanding how to manage stress in your workplace could turn into a sound business opportunity. The costs associated with workplace stress mean that all businesses – including your clients’ – are likely to need advice and support on how to tackle it.
Turning your experiences in your own workplace into advice for your clients could be very good for the health of your business.