Employers urged to ‘influence employees thinking’ when it comes to stress

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The growing problem of stress-related absence at work won’t be tackled unless organisations start to think differently about stress, according to a new whitepaper from Right Management Workplace Wellness released today. The whitepaper urges employers to recognise that understanding the process which employees go through in deciding whether to go to work or not is also pivotal to implementing the right wellness solutions in their organisation and to reducing ‘stress’ related absence.

Influencing this ‘decision moment’ should be the main focus for stress management, according to Kevin Friery, Clinical Director at Right Management Workplace Wellness and the author of the whitepaper. He believes that there is a myriad of negative factors that could sway people to decide not to go to work, in particular, when they feel unwell, stressed or unable to cope. Influencing their thinking when they are determining whether being at work will make them feel physically better or worse is particularly key. Friery also stresses that it’s important to remember that the workplace is not the only source of stress for employees; factors that tend to have a huge impact at work and productivity are very often generated entirely outside of work.

Friery explains: “Each time a distressed employee transitions between being at home and being at work there is a point in time when they make a decision about the next time they are due to go to work. Almost always this is an unconscious process, so most people are not even aware that a decision is being made. We know that employees can go through at least 30 questions, so there is a large possibility of negative answers, especially if someone already feels troubled or disengaged. Be it because of their family situation, money or work, they are more likely to arrive to negative answers.”

He continues: “You can relate this decision-making process closely to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; physiological needs are always assessed first. Questions such as ‘How do I feel physically?’ and ‘Might work exacerbate the problem?’ will naturally come before questions considering the impact that people’s absence may cause to their employer. This means that employers need to try to influence employees’ thinking when they are considering their basic physical needs.”

According to the whitepaper, rethinking stress for employers starts with posing two key questions:

  • What are we doing to make work good for employees’ health and wellbeing?
  • What do we do that might make work bad for employees’ wellbeing and health?

Friery concludes: “Employers that are willing to rethink stress need to go back to basics and ensure that everything that can be done to meet basic physiological and safety needs is being done, before they can move on to a higher level of tactical and strategic workplace engagement.

For more information, please download the full Rethinking Stress whitepaper.

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  1. I first brought this to the attention of the government and the TUC back in 2008. While I received a reply, a platitude, from the Minister I received no reply from the TUC and, as history has shown us, employers will act only when they are forced to.

    Kevin Friery makes a very valid point in that stress can start anywhere but exhibit at work simply because people spend a large part of their day at work. So what might be affecting an employee could be something totally unrelated to work. I designed a simple diagnostic tool to help people find the root cause of their stress. The results were frequently surprising and often not even remotely associated with their workplace or job.

    Stress clusters are created by a whole series of factors and what is necessary is a clearer understanding by employers of what is actually happening within the minds of their employees. Notable ‘stress employers’ such as local authorities simply do not understand there are several factors that make people unhappy and disaffected at work. Locard’s Exchange Principle can have far reaching consequences without anyone realizing why they feel the way they do. Someone’s stress may be nothing more than an empathy state. The puzzle needs to be understood at an holistic level and not just, for example, problems brought about by changes in the working hours of one department or its relocation.

    Redundancies are a major stress inducer. Survival guilt is a very strong negative that almost always make an impact on those who still have a job. It is a problem that is largely ignored.

    However, the responsibility does not just lie with employers. How can they be expected to understand it if there are no nationwide, effective training courses for them? That is a priority and it should be addressed with all possible speed. The cost of implementing such courses will be only a fraction of the money generated by increased productivity. The public coffers will also benefit by reduced health charges because people will not be so frequently needing doctors’ time and drugs, which currently cost several hundred million pounds every year. And, as a bonus, the morale of the country will gradually rise. That alone is worth the effort.

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