Confirmation from the CIPD, should we need it, that the UK workforce is under more pressure than ever before. Its latest research survey puts stress as the top cause of long-term absence, overtaking the previous contenders (musculoskeletal disorders and acute medical conditions) for the first time ever.
Two-fifths of employers taking part in the research, which is a joint annual survey with Simplyhealth, reported that stress-related sick days had gone up over the past year. According to staff themselves, the root causes of their stress were increasingly heavy workloads and fear of being made redundant. This had a knock-on effect of making family life increasingly strained, due to worries about money and job security.
One of the most interesting insights to come out of the survey, however, is that poor HR management may actually be exacerbating the problem. There’s no doubt that a climate of constant uncertainty is putting managers themselves under a great deal of strain. Many simply don’t have the skills to adapt rapidly to change, achieve better results with less resources and keep their teams motivated and engaged.
But line managers, the authors suggest, have also lost the trust of their employees, who feel they are rarely being given the full picture. Just the simple act of communicating clearly about any changes that might be on the cards could do much to reduce stress and keep people on a more even keel.
Now while the reality is that organisations can’t always be completely open about changes (often because they don’t really know themselves), there is usually something that can be said to make employees feel they are being kept in the loop. When you’re worried that your job might be on the line, some information is better than no information at all.
Managers also need to be keeping a closer eye on their teams, so that they can provide support to those starting to crumble before it’s too late. “They need to be able to spot the early signs of people being under excessive pressure or having difficulty coping at work and to provide appropriate support,” says CIPD Adviser Dr Jill Miller.
In the past, organisations turning to the stress management industry for help faced a confusing array of providers offering everything from life coaching and yoga to risk assessment and EAP programmes.
The British Standards Institute has, however, stepped in to help with its new stress management standard, developed jointly with the International Stress Management Association. The standard provides the previously unregulated industry with a certification process that will help organisations make sure they are working with credible professionals.
It’s reassurance that the Welsh Administration will no doubt be looking for in its search for a provider who can help its 5,500 staff cope better with the stresses and strains of working in the public sector. According to a recent report in The Daily Telegraph, the Welsh government has put out a tender for a two year contract to provide relaxation therapy, including on-site massages, for its employees.
Now while I can see the appeal of a massage to help ease the aching muscles caused by hours hunched over the computer, I can’t help wondering if the civil servants in question might prefer to see the money in their pay packets? And while I’m sure management standards in the Welsh Administration are exemplary, there’s an argument to say that if organisations were managing their people effectively, they wouldn’t be quite so stressed in the first place.
What do you think? Is it a worthwhile initiative or a sticking plaster approach? We look forward to hearing your views.