Stress affects all aspects of productivity, including decision-making, creativity, learning and building relationships, so what effect is this having on organizations?
When we are stressed our brains shrink and it’s like losing about 15 IQ points. If you consider that over half of employees report levels of stress high enough to make them ill, does this mean that most organizations are operating at sub optimal levels and losing the competitive edge?
What about the employees who are absent due to stress?
Nearly three-quarters of employees return to work early when suffering with workplace stress and 16% continue to work after being formally diagnosed with workplace stress. But how efficient and engaged are these employees and how many absences are unnecessarily prolonged or repeated because lack of competence to deal with the issues that caused the stress in the first place?
So, what can organizations do for returning employees, or those who have identified they are struggling, to make sure they return to work in good time, ready and able to cope.
We know the most common causes of work related stress are:
This could be a change in role, circumstances or in the organization.
A huge factor in stress, with a perceived lack of control perpetuating the stress.
In research, workload is cited as the key stressor in work. But there can be various reasons for this; for example, poor time and attention management, low self-management and being unable to manage relationships with others.
Ambiguity, not being clear about what they are employed to do, can be a major trigger of stress for some individuals.
Relationships and support
Many people are poor at forming and maintaining relationships whether inside or outside work and this is exacerbated by stress. Without the skills to build relationships individuals may not get support and even experience conflict, be subjected to bullying or become bullies themselves.
How can we ensure employees return to work, ready for work?
We want staff to confidently return to and stay in work don’t we? And if we can reduce the length of the period of absence this has a two fold benefit: reducing cost but also increasing the likelihood that the employee will remain in the company.
Employees may name one cause of their stress, such as a bullying manager, but it is usually a number of issues, coming together to form the perfect storm that led them to become overwhelmed. The causes will usually be due to a lack of personal performance skills or coping skills.
So, if we can address this by way of a programme of awareness raising and training, employees can return to work earlier, stay in work and return to their previous high levels of performance.
What would a return to work programme look like?
It can be fully tailored to the individual but is likely to include some or all of the following:
- Understanding work related stress
- Weathering change
- Taking control
- Understanding and challenging negative thoughts
- workload management especially:
- Time and attention management
- Poor delegation skills
- Managing interruptions
- Prioritizing and meeting deadlines
- Tackling email overwhelm
- Recognising perfectionism and procrastination
- Clarity of role
- Learning to say ‘no’ when appropriate without causing conflict
- Building great relationships and gaining support
- Emotional intelligence training for self management
- Listening skills and empathy
- Effective delegation and managing others
- Understanding and using assertiveness
- Building self esteem.
How would a company measure the effectiveness or ROI of such a programme?
Whilst it’s not possible to predict how long an individual would have been absent from work without an intervention, there are averages that can be used as a benchmark.
Furthermore, what we can measure is a reduction in length of average absenteeism and the resulting reports of wellbeing and engagement by the employee(s) involved plus positive reports from colleagues and team members.
Even further benefit could be gained by organisations acting on early reports of work related stress and intervening to prevent the absenteeism in the first place by equipping employees with these essential coping skills.
If you would like to make sure your employees return to work safely after a stress related absence or if you are concerned you have a problem with stress, why not contact me now to discuss your particular needs. Or details of my ‘Return to work, ready for work’ programme can be obtained from my website by clicking here.