It is worrying, but true. 42% of the 700 UAE workers questioned in 2016 for a global report by Steelcase chose stressful as the word to describe their workplace. Globally, the average is 35%, the UAE only fared better than South Africa with 48%.
This percentage suggests that workplace stress plays a regular role rather than a short-term ‘deadline day‘ one. Research shows that stress negatively impacts long-term health and productivity.
Employers should be aiming to reduce stress for the sake of their workers’ health. This will also benefit the health of the business. Stressed workers take more sick days and have lower productivity. This is costly both in terms of profit and health insurance premiums.
How stress affects employees’ health
When you are stressed, the hormone cortisol is released. This triggers a cascade of changes in the nervous, cardiovascular and immune systems. This causes the body to divert energy to where it is needed most, while it down-regulates less critical activities, for example digestion, which makes people prone to weight gain.
Chronic stress raises blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes over time. Stress can encourage unhealthy behaviour such as smoking, drinking and eating poorly. This compounds the risk of serious conditions.
Stress makes people more susceptible to illness. A research published in the Journal of Health Psychology, showed that work-related stress, lasting longer than a month, tripled the risk of catching a cold. Three months of stress increased the risk five-fold.
Further evidence proves that chronic stress triggers asthma symptoms, headaches and gut problems, not mentioning the emotional toll. Out of 1,200 participants concerning the symptoms of stress, 42% reported feeling irritable or angry, 39% anxious or nervous, 37% depressed or sad, while 35% lacked motivation.
Impact on work performance
Research by Willis Towers Watson has revealed that low levels of stress led to an average 2,6 days absent per year in 2016. High levels of stress led to an average of 4.1 days.
So, let’s look at some evidence-based approaches to making employees happier and healthier.
1. Pinpoint the causes
It is important to take the time to find out exactly what’s causing stress in your company in order to target specific problems, such as long hours or unmanageable deadlines, effectively. There is a discrepancy between what employees and employers believe are the primary causes of work-related stress. Employers presume it to be poor work-life balance, but employees cited inadequate staffing and low pay.
2. Implement a health and productivity programme
Stress and resilience management is one of the most popular wellness programmes offered by employers in EMEA (Europe, Middle-East, America) countries. At Hercules Academy we know for a fact that these programmes are indeed effective.
3. Consider the environment
Individuals are less stressed when they have some control of noise and lighting levels. Access to daylight can have direct psychological benefits. Concentration can be improved with a comfortable ambient temperature. Employees with access to green space display significantly lower levels of stress and an improved attitude to their workplace, according to a study by the Journal Landscape and Urban Planning in 2013.
Ultimately, it is very beneficial to design the working environment to limit unnecessary stress. This could be done by introducing chill-out rooms for relaxing or quiet work, implementing a rooftop garden to your office or making use of hot-desking so people can move to an area that best suits them.
A healthy future
In the long run, everyone loses out from a stressful working environment and the best way to reduce it is to address its causes. It’s true that pressure in the workplace is sometimes unavoidable – and can actually be motivating in the right dose – but it shouldn’t become chronic and unmanageable. As the World Health Organization (WHO) points out: ‘A healthy job is likely to be one where the pressures on employees are appropriate in relation to their abilities and resources, to the amount of control they have over their work, and to the support they receive from people who matter to them.’
Are you eager to take the corporate wellbeing of your company to the next level? Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll have a look at what we can mean for you!
Hercules Academy offers programmes with a holistic view, covering these and other topics, which you can find here.