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Recent research by global insurance provider MetLife has revealed that in the last 12 months, 20 per cent of employees have taken time off due to work-related stress as a mental health concern.

Among the 2,134 people surveyed, only 10 per cent had missed a day due to a sporting injury, and 8 per cent had been off work due to a hangover, making stress one of the biggest causes of absence. Meanwhile, the average duration of sick leave due to stress was considerable, at five days.

 

Counting the cost of workplace stress

HSE stats show work related stress, depression and anxiety caused 10.4 million lost working days in 2011/12. With each sick day costing on average £618, the overall cost to the UK economy works out at an estimated £6.5bn. Indeed, considering the loss in productivity, and perhaps the need to bring in temporary cover, how much would it cost you if one in five of your staff took five days off this year?

And that’s not all. In severe cases and where your failure to help the individual constituted constructive dismissal, or if the employee was dismissed for reasons linked to their stress, you could also end up facing a tribunal.

Of course, there is one thing that could be considered worse than absence – coming into work while suffering from stress. Common symptoms of stress include tiredness, being unable to concentrate, and finding it difficult to make decisions. What would a 10 or 20 per cent drop in productivity cost you, long term? Worse still, could an employee’s stress be putting your business, themselves or others at risk?

 

Finally, add to that the human cost of stress for your employees. The feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness, feeling alienated from colleagues, being unable to pay bills while on sick leave, and even leaving a job they are good at. Businesses have a duty to their employees to think long and hard about their approach to tackling stress.

 

Handling workplace stress with private medical insurance

The biggest and most important change needed across the board is a change in attitudes towards stress. Research from mental health charity Mind revealed 42 per cent of workers think stress is a sign of weakness, while 31 per cent would not feel comfortable talking to their line manager about stress.

It can therefore work wonders to promote a culture of caring, where stress is taken seriously and there is a support framework in place to address the issue. Raising awareness among staff is a vital part of this, while having regular chances to talk with a line manager is important – things mentioned in passing could act as clues to potential problems brewing, giving you the chance to think about adjusting workload or deadlines.

 

Meanwhile, investing in an occupational health scheme will give your employees access to helplines and counselling from professionals. MetLife’s research showed 63 per cent of those surveyed would welcome more health and wellbeing support from their employer, and an occupational health scheme is designed to offer just that.

Finally, do what you can to encourage healthy habits. The benefits of physical activity have been extolled time and again, so running clubs or free or discounted gym membership could help encourage exercise. Create a healthy working environment by ensuring there is plenty of fresh air, natural light, and a calm break-out area where staff can unwind – and insist on people taking their allocated breaks, no matter how busy they think they are.

 

Ultimately, workplace stress is often a preventable problem. With a few small changes, you can minimise a costly drain on resources, and improve company morale. There is no excuse for not doing enough.