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Stress Factors

Seasonal factors

March 12 2014 - A study of 2000 people conducted by One Poll for Friends Life found winter to be the most stressful of all the seasons. More than 60% of respondents chose it over the other seasons. Spring came out as the least stressful season over all.

On a month by month basis, the poll showed that more than a third of people (35%) regarded January as the most stressful. This was followed by December (20%) and February (9%). By contrast, September (1%) was rated the least stressful month.

The study also found that money was the most commonly rated cause of stress (36%) while 18% of people chose work. Within the work category, volume of work (21%) was the main issue while 1 in 10 respondents said it was working long hours (11%).

According to David Williams, Director of Group Protection at Friends Life:

"For many people, winter continues to be a season of not only short day light hours, but a time of stress. The workplace is still a key cause of stress and shows how important it is for businesses to be aware of the effects and to have systems in place to support staff wellbeing. Access to benefits such as an Employer and Employee Assistance Programme can give people help and advice when staff really need it and prevent the negative effects of long term absence.

"At the end of last year Friends Life carried out some other research and found that stress was costing employers £460m per day in wages because of staff taking time off work. That shows just how important it is for businesses to be aware of the effect stress can have on the workforce and why it's important to have systems in place to support staff."

Developmental aspects of stress

Research published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2008 found that mental health problems in childhood have a detrimental impact on subsequent working life with increased levels of depression and anxiety.

Researchers analysed data from over 8000 participants in the 1958 Birth Cohort, a long-term study of babies born during one week in March of that year. Their mental health was reviewed at the ages of 7, 11, and 16 using information from teachers and parents, and at the ages of 23 and 33 using personal interviews. Participants reaching the age of 45 were invited to discuss their working lives and mental health.

The researchers found that being single, living in rented accommodation, having a chronic illness, or no qualifications were all linked to depression and anxiety in mid life. However, workplace stressors, including lack of control over decisions, low levels of social support, and high levels of job insecurity increased the risk of depression and anxiety by two to four times.

Internalising behaviours in early childhood and adulthood - such as depression or lack of concentration - strongly predicted poor quality working life. Researchers suggest mental health problems in early childhood and adulthood may have knock-on effects, inhibiting education and subsequent employment prospects, or resulting in a tendency to opt for apparently less demanding work that turns out to be less rewarding and more stressful.

Stress is a taboo subject

A study released in 2003 showed that stress was still regarded as a taboo subject in the workplace. Despite the huge costs and high risks associated with work-related stress, many working environments are still chiefly characterised by high pressure and heavy workloads. Moreover, susceptibility to stress is very much considered to be a weakness that employees cannot afford to highlight without fear of repercussions.

These findings came from Hot under the collar: how stress is impacting on the 21st century business environment completed by Cubiks, a specialist HR consultancy. Specific findings include:

  • Complaining of stress will damage your career prospects - 76% of survey respondents thought that their career prospects would be damaged if they complained of stress, and managers confirmed that they are right to think this. 79% of managers said they would be less likely to employ a candidate if they suspected that they were prone to stress and 87% would be less likely to promote an existing employee if they had doubts over their ability to handle stress
  • Stress levels are rising and will get higher - One in four said that their average stress levels at work were either high or very high and almost half expect these levels to increase in the next 12 months
  • The economic downturn is influencing stress levels - Only 9% considered poor compensation and benefits to be a major concern, which indicates that those who have not been affected by redundancy or restructuring are grateful to be in employment. Job insecurity was stated as being a cause of stress for almost half of all respondents.
  • It's not just emotive tasks such as dismissing staff or announcing redundancies that cause stress for managers - A large proportion of managers said that core people management tasks such as handling performance appraisals or conducting the recruitment interview were a significant source of stress for them. This suggests that managers are not receiving the training needed to perform in their role
  • Few organisations provide facilities for stressed employees - Only one third (34%) of respondents said that stress was recognised as an issue in their workplace and just 31% of respondents said that personal counselling services were available to them. Fewer still (27%) said that their organisation has any formal process for handling grievances or concerns relating to stress.

Although 49% of respondents did think that their line-manager would be concerned or sympathetic if they complained of stress, a quarter (24%) believed that their line managers would become irritated or annoyed if they raised stress as an issue. Almost half said that their relationship with their superiors was a considerable or major cause of concern for them and one in four (23%) complained that they were suffering from harassment or bullying.

According to Matt Dean, employment lawyer and Head of Employment Law Training (ELT) at international law firm Simmons & Simmons:

"Providing counselling for employees is an important tool in managing stress. Employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment. The Court of Appeal last year indicated that employers offering a confidential counselling service with appropriate referrals are "unlikely to be in breach of duty". Even with counselling, employers cannot afford to ignore warning signs that an employee is suffering stress. Training for managers in how to recognise warning signs and how to manage this issue is key to limit legal liability and improve morale."

Occupational Stress

A report from the Industrial Society, Occupational Stress, published in 2001 showed that almost 70% of people surveyed cited difficulty in balancing work and home demands as a significant contributing factor to occupational stress. Nearly 50% reported unrealistic deadlines and the consequent time pressure as a factor. More than 40% identified poor communications as a factor in raising stress levels.

Other findings:

  • 86% of respondents considered that stress was a problem in their organisation - 36% rating it as being significantly so.
  • 79% identified increased absence as the main symptom of stress in an employee.
  • 53% regard stress as something an organisation can address proactively.
  • 95% view supportive managers as the workplace factor most likely to help employees cope with stress.

The following were identified as positive measures for reducing stress:

  • good employee communication (68%)
  • realistic deadlines (53%)
  • empowering staff (32%)
  • a 'no blame culture' (45%)
  • flexible working arrangements (44%)

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