Reducing stress and work life balance are key issues for employers

Employers are increasingly trying to alleviate employee stress by better engaging employees through their health and wellbeing programmes, according to Towers Watson, a global professional services company.

Towers Watson’s Health, Wellbeing and Productivity survey shows that over 40 per cent of employers already have stress management programmes in place and an additional 31 per cent plan to introduce them in the next two years.

Rebekah Haymes, senior consultant at Towers Watson, said: “The current focus for many employers is largely on help at the point of need; however, in future, they do foresee emphasising prevention, particularly with regard to managing stress levels.

“Stress can have a major negative impact on the productivity of employees. That employers are now starting to focus on prevention and encouraging healthier lifestyles is a step in the right direction.”

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According to the survey, almost all (98 per cent) of employers that are able to measure wellbeing feel stress is an issue for their workforce, while a similar percentage (97 per cent) believe work-life balance is also an issue. In response, the survey shows that improving the mental health of workers is the second highest priority for employers (62 per cent), with raising employee engagement being their number one priority.

The majority of employers believe excessive workload and/or long hours are the most significant causes of stress, with some 86 per cent citing this as an issue. The expanding role of technology – facilitating access outside normal working hours – is named as the second highest cause of stress (76 per cent). Other causes are: lack of work-life balance (75 per cent); inadequate staffing (63 per cent); fears about job loss (58 per cent); and lack of support or training (30 per cent).

Haymes said: “The trend towards technologies which enable more flexible working have beneficial effects on productivity, but also have potential adverse effects on workers as the expectation of responding ‘out of hours’ rises. The combination of working long hours and feeling the need to remain on call outside working hours weighs heavily on some employees’ shoulders. Employers should think about these factors when developing their health and wellbeing programme, but they should also think beyond providing support at the point of need. Understanding what drives stress in the workplace will help to identify targeted programmes.”

The study shows that organisations that have taken steps to help manage employee stress mainly do so by introducing an Employee Assistance Programme (88 per cent). Another popular approach is support for flexible working (73 per cent). Fewer companies are taking steps to pre-empt stress arising as an issue for their staff, with around one-third of firms having education and awareness campaigns in place or having introduced risk assessments or stress audits.

Towers Watson says it has seen an increase in demand from employers for employee resilience training and believe this will continue to play an important role as part of stress management programmes.

Haymes said: “Employee Assistance Programmes are widely seen as a valuable tool to alleviate employee concerns and any associated feelings of stress and anxiety. However, with absences due to stress on the increase there is a greater need to consider more preventative measures. This might simply be education and awareness about the signs of stress and the provision of tools to help employees cope more effectively. Even so, education and communication can go a long way towards breaking the taboo of dealing with stress and the associated stigmas.”

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