Work-related Stress

13 November 2019

Admin

Business

Work-related stress /(noun): The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work – UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

A major challenge

According to the 2019 annual report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD): Health and Well-being at Work Survey 2019  stress related absence in the UK increased over the year in nearly two-fifths of organisations with 62% of respondents citing the volume of work and then 43% management style (the report was based on replies from 1,078 organisations across the UK in reference to 3.2m employees).

In 2017/18 the UK Health and Safety Executive concluded that work-related stress is the leading cause of ill health and sickness absence in Britain with over 0.6m cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This accounted for 44% of all the cases of work-related ill health in Britain. As for the causes, HSE said 44% came from workload (tight deadlines, too much responsibility and lack of managerial support), 13% bullying and 8% from organisational changes.

Whilst the above statistics are in respect of the UK, other countries have similar experience. According to the American Institute of Stress, occupational pressures and fears are the leading source of stress for American adults, and these have increased over the past few decades. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work states that work-related stress is one of the biggest health and safety challenges faced in Europe.

From LinkedIn Learning statistics a similar picture of the scale of the problem emerges, with workload (work/life balance) being, once again, at the top of the list of causes of work-related stress.

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Smartphones and stress

One of the main contributors to stress inside and outside of the workplace is the smartphone, tending to be used more as a mobile computer rather than for its original purpose to make calls. According to the Pew Research Centre 81% of Americans now own one, up from 35% in 2011. The same growth has been mirrored around the World. In Europe, for example, the GSM Association estimated the penetration rate to be 85% of the population, expected to increase to 88% by 2025.

The same research from the Pew Research Centre shows 96% of adults between 18-29 own a smartphone, falling to 53% of the over 65s. It’s there no coincidence, given the overdependence, even addiction to smartphones, that Udemy for business observed that, in their 2017 survey, stress levels were higher the younger the user age group.

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It probably doesn’t require a survey to tell us that, for many, stress and anxiety increase when we are separated from our smartphone. They tend to be a continuing distraction throughout the day and can cause sleep loss at night, disturbing your 24 hour clock, what is known as your circadian rhythm.

Whilst much of this pressure comes from non-work related activity, such as the use of social media, there is for many an overlap between life in and away from the workplace. Experts tell us that increasingly we are failing to switch off when outside of the workplace, checking emails during our spare time, and for some this can have serious implications.

The consequences of stress

Aside from the obvious impact 15.4m days of absence in the UK in 2017/18 from work-related stress has on productivity, the consequences for the health and well-being of employees are significant: as well as making life miserable some are potentially life threatening. These consequences include the following:

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What should an employer do?

Confronting the early signs and symptoms of stress is good business practice. This will affect both the ability of an organisation to recruit the best people as well as reduce the costs that are incurred as a result of work-related stress. Staff attraction and retention strategies are critical to the success of any organisation, and what happens in the workplace play a major part in both.

Younger employees are at the forefront of change in the workforce. For an organisation to thrive it needs to recruit the best people and therefore must be aware of what this younger generation wants and needs. It must also acknowledge their willingness to change jobs in order to satisfy those wants and needs. Not surprisingly, what this particular generation wants is also coveted by most of the workforce, there being no correlation with age or position.

Salary will always be important but, significantly, young people want their work to have meaning and purpose, to have opportunities to develop and for their job to fit their life. What they truly care about are those things that offer them greater flexibility and independence, as well as the ability to lead a better life. Having a life, not just a job – getting the work/life balance right – is often their priority. Recent UK research by recruitment firm Robert Half revealed “that more than one in 10 UK employees are unhappy at work, with many finding their job stressful and reporting dissatisfaction with their work-life balance” and that “sickness and absences at work are one of the indicators to employee wellbeing”.

Because of this, it is therefore critical that, not only does an organisation make available a working environment that is as pleasant and as stress free as possible to work in, but that it also considers adopting those working practices that enhance flexibility and independence, remote working being an example.

By not identifying and then addressing stress in the work place the consequences are clear, the most obvious being employee absence and its direct link to productivity. However, in some instances the impact is less clear, and sometimes delayed. Whilst not being absent but stressed, it is easy to see how an employee can lose focus when in the workplace, again with a detrimental effect on productivity.

As well as “absenteeism”, an increased workload can lead to what is known as “presenteeism” – where the employee feels an obligation to go to work under any circumstances, even when ill or having an injury affecting their work. Again affecting productivity, this also causes tiredness and low morale, and maybe even illnesses being spread amongst work colleagues. So although turning up for work despite being ill may on first sight be an admirable thing to do, it’s not necessarily in the best interests of the individual, their colleagues nor the organisation.

Alongside “presenteeism” is “leavism”, with employees making themselves available during their time off, whether that be or  vacations. Again, most likely caused by an unreasonable workload, the impact can be felt on the employee’s personal life, bringing problems at work, insomnia, using alcohol and such like.

Paid sick leave, short breaks during the day, flexible working times, job sharing, arrangements for sick cover and shift working are all policies to consider when looking at improving the well-being of employees.

We will now look at some useful steps that are relatively easy to implement as well as how technology can play a part in reducing work-related stress.

Some simple first, practical steps

Identifying the sources of potential stress in the workplace is the first step and, after that, putting in place measures to assist in removing or neutralising them, some examples of which are as follows:

Solutions using technology

Confronting the early signs and symptoms of stress is good business practice. This will affect both the ability of an organisation to recruit the best people as well as reduce the costs that are incurred as a result of work-related stress. Staff attraction and retention strategies are critical to the success of any organisation, and what happens in the workplace play a major part in both.

Whilst technology can have some negative effects on work-related stress, such as 24/7 availability through the widespread use of smartphones, less personal interaction with colleagues and the fear, real or otherwise, of job losses, it can of course deliver very significant benefits.

With email and instant messaging we can communicate with customers, suppliers and colleagues easier and faster than ever before. Improved computing power both in the office and through smartphones means we can increasingly perform tasks quicker and with greater accuracy. In addition to low cost, specialist video conferencing software most of us have video chat tools such as Skype or WhatsApp, making virtual meetings easily achievable, reducing time wasted travelling and attending face-to-face meetings aggravated by the need to dedicate office space to those meetings. All of these characteristics make life easier for workers and will hopefully reduce stress levels.

More specifically, certain software applications, although primarily designed to increase productivity, have a favourable impact on stress levels in the workplace. Team email collaboration software, such as CompassAir , is designed to make it easier for team members to work together, save time and be better organised. Needless to say, work-related stress is unfortunately everywhere, but we are particularly aware of it in our own maritime sector. Shipping is a 24/7 business, it never sleeps. Some brokers for example handle thousands of emails a day, and missing an email or a deal can have huge financial consequences. In designing our software, we try to either remove or reduce the impact of the various pain points to which our clients are exposed, with the knock on effect of making their lives a little easier as well as more rewarding. An example of one of our simplest, but very well used, features is “Notify Me“: it can be used to mark an important outgoing message, one where it is necessary that you see the reply as soon as it arrives. By marking it “Notify Me”, you will receive a notification on your smartphone as soon as it arrives in your inbox. 

For more of an insight into team collaboration software, see our article explaining what it is and how it might benefit your organisation. Such software also serves to reduce email noise, facilitating the achievement of goals by cutting down on time spent dealing with emails which, by reducing stress, has a beneficial effect on the health and wellbeing of employees.

Allowing employees to work from home, flexible working, can also improve mental health, there being more control over one’s time, thus improving the work/life balance by, for example, removing some of the conflicts which arise, such as through needing to do school runs etc. Indeed, having the option to work from home is very important to the majority of millennials, and making that option available may prove critical when attempting to hire the best candidates.

Technology now makes it easier than ever to support remote working. With ease of communication through the use of video conferencing, instant messaging, email and screen sharing, such a policy is now much easier to implement. Applications that allow the sharing of documents are invaluable, again this includes our own CompassAir. The best known platforms dedicated to sharing include Dropbox and Google Docs, allowing both the creation and concurrent editing of documents by team members.

Whilst there is a strong argument that you should not recruit employees you cannot trust to work flexibly, and flexible working after all relies on employers trusting their employees, an employer may derive at least a little peace of mind through the use of performance management tools. Actually, on the contrary to the assumption that might be made by some, there is strong anecdotal evidence that people actually overcompensate for flexible work conditions. Regardless, such performance management tools can be used generally to detect the early symptoms of stress and thus enable early intervention.

Flexible working allows employees to work in a way that is best for them and this not only relates to location but also to time spent in the workplace. This allows for the freedom to manage day-to-day schedules in order to maximise productivity, an example being flexitime. This does not mean to say there cannot be face-to-face meetings, instead these can be facilitated through fixing days or particular times that require attendance by all at the workplace.

Looking to the future, the use of more AI in the workplace will affect not only employment and wages but also worker well-being. In a survey by the Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society (RISTEX) in Japan it was found that with improved technology in the workplace, such as AI, job satisfaction increased. However, conversely, work-related stress also increased.

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The interpretation of this is that, with the introduction of AI, workers are required to undertake more complex, less repetitive tasks, i.e. those not capable of being done by a machine and that require more complex problem solving than before. Hence the increase in stress and anxiety, at least in the short term.

In a few words: an employer should be looking for the symptoms and causes of stress in the workplace and then taking steps to alleviate them where they can. However, it does need to be remembered that sometimes only so much can be done. It goes without saying that mental health is very complex and whilst the use of technology, a pleasant environment, good diet, fresh air and exercise and such like may help some, it most definitely will not be the solution for all. Once recognised then care, assistance and counselling become necessary, using the offices of suitably qualified professionals.

A few words about CompassAir

Creating solutions for the global maritime sector, CompassAir develops state of the art messaging and business application software designed to maximise ROI. Our software is used across the sector, including by Sale and Purchase brokers (S&P/SnP), Chartering brokers, Owners, Managers and Operators.

Through its shipping and shipbroking clients, ranging from recognised World leaders through to the smallest, most dynamic independent companies, CompassAir has a significant presence in the major maritime centres throughout Europe, the US and Asia.

Our flagship solution is designed to simplify collaboration for teams within and across continents, allowing access to group mailboxes at astounding speed using tools that remove the stress from handling thousands of emails a day. It can be cloud based or on premise. To find out more contact [email protected]. If you are new to shipping, or just want to find out more about this exciting and challenging sector, the CompassAir Shipping Guide might prove to be an interesting read.e US and Asia.

For more information about CompassAir and its products go to: mycompassair.com

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