Managing stress at work for employers and employees
Stress in the workplace is a growing concern for both employees and employers in Australia with figures showing that stress-related compensation claims have almost doubled in recent years.
Workplace stress can also impact employee productivity both through increased absenteeism and presenteeism (coming to work when you are sick or injured, but being less productive), imposing a direct economic cost on employers.
Medibank Private has a strong track record in undertaking research into issues that affect workplace health and productivity and has commissioned The Cost of Workplace Stress, a research report which has found that:
- healthy employees are three times more productive than unhealthy employees;
- unhealthy employees take nine times more sick leave than healthy employees;
- presenteeism costs $25.7 billion annually;
- on average, six working days of productivity are lost per year per employee due to presenteeism.
These figures do not reflect the hidden cost of re-staffing and re-skilling, when stress results in staff turnover.
As an employee’s stress levels increase, their health may not deteriorate to a clinical state, but they may instead resign before that point, the report said. In these cases, employers may not incur the direct costs associated with stress injury or illness, but may instead incur indirect costs from increased staffing expenses and lost productivity while there is no one in the job.
The Medicare research further found the true cost of workplace stress was easy to underestimate, given stress has been shown to have causal links to a wide range of health conditions. These include:
- cardiovascular disease
- musculoskeletal disorders
- gastrointestinal disorders.
Some common early warning signs of stress may include headaches, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, irritability, upset stomach and low morale.
It is often easier for an individual to recognise early symptoms of workplace stress than it is for his or her employer to identify when their employee is feeling stressed.
However, from an employer’s perspective, outward signs of stress include visible tension, short temper, weight gain or loss, nervous habits such as nail biting or pacing and noticeable decreases in the quality of work.
The burden of workplace stress on employers is significant and represents an area in which preventive measures may produce strong economic and productivity gains for the employer and the broader economy, the report said.
To minimise the detrimental effects of stress on both employees and organisations, employers should make a conscious effort to identify and address the causes of stress in the workplace.
A collaborative approach by employers and employees to address workplace stress could improve the health and wellbeing of the Australian workforce and achieve improved economic outcomes.
The report said that workplace stress is the response people may experience when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.
The employee may face unreasonable or unrealistic performance demands, or be expected to work excessive hours. Other stressors can include physical elements within an environment such as loud noise or physically uncomfortable working conditions and insufficient breaks. Psychosocial stressors include pressures as tight deadlines, job insecurity, harassment or poor chances for advancement.
Figures suggest many Australians are working hard, including overtime, or at least long hours. This is yet another reason why employees are feeling stress in the workplace.
Almost one quarter of full-time employees work 50 hours or more every week, and the average working week for Australian men is almost 46 hours per week, compared to 43 hours in most other industrialised nations. (It's harder to get a clear picture of the women's working hours as many work casual or part-time, but OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) figures show more Australian women work part-time than their counterparts in other industrialised nations.)
Employee rights regarding psychological injury
You can find general information about psychological injury and workers’ rights through external sources such as the state WorkCover authorities or government industrial relations departments.