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Stress awareness month: the importance of wellbeing

Mental wellbeing is high on the news agenda with the recent revelations from Prince Harry. Prince William, too, has recently enlisted the help of Lady Gaga in his campaign to persuade people to be more open about mental health issues.

Stress has a real impact in the workplace. Last year approximately 15 million working days were lost to stress, according to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics. Indeed, it is the most common cause of long term absence and the second highest cause of short term absence according to the CIPD.

Given April is stress awareness month, it is worth considering the cost of workplace stress.  Workplace stress is defined as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them".  It is not an illness in itself but it can contribute to ill health, anxiety and depression in particular.

The wellbeing of workers is increasingly accepted as an important factor in the productivity and, ultimately, the success of organisations.  Happy, healthy workers perform better, take fewer days off sick and tend to stay with an organisation for longer.

Women are statistically more likely to suffer from stress than men, with women in the 35 to 44 age group being most at risk according to The Labour Force Survey.  This research also reveals professional occupations have higher rates of work related stress than other occupations and that stress is most prevalent in public services such as education and health.  At the other end of the scale it found that the smaller the company the fewer incidences of workplace stress there were.

So what can larger organisations learn from smaller ones that can help prevent stress?

Common causes of workplace stress include excessive workloads, tight deadlines, lack of managerial support, organisational change and poor work relationships (such as bullying). These are all matters that businesses can or should control.  Perhaps the closer working relationships that come in a smaller working environment are a contributory factor.

So-called, "well workplaces" actively contribute to the prevention of stress. They promote initiatives such as healthy living - supplying fresh fruit, supporting a cycling to work scheme or subsidising gym membership - as well as providing access to counselling or stress management.

Ultimately it has proven to have an impact. Research shows that FTSE 100 companies that have invested in wellness have outperformed other FTSE 100 companies by up to 10%.

The UK Government has developed a workplace wellbeing tool which helps work out the costs of poor employee health to the business and assists with creating a business case for taking action. Such insights could help HR professionals and managers persuade businesses that such an investment can pay off in the long run.

People are very often a business’s most important asset and investing in that asset may well contribute to success in the longer term.

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