Guest Blogger Kyna Bowers discusses workplace stress and its effect on the individual and your business.
Stress is something every one of us experiences and in small doses it is a normal and healthy part of life. We all have different triggers, and perhaps different symptoms, and it can be cumulative or sparked by particular events. In some instances it is fair to say that we need a certain amount of pressure to be able to perform to our full potential – it provides another dimension of motivation that may be hard to source elsewhere. However, stress in large doses is problematic and growing all the more common.
The variations in symptoms and causes mean that it is a challenge to define stress in a homogenous and general way, but we may view it as something along the lines of “a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands”. In terms of work-related stress, it may be described as “a process than can occur when there is an unresolved mismatch between perceived pressures of the work situation and an individual’s ability to cope” . When we are stressed we become agitated and erratic, diminishing our ability to think logically and handle situations outwith our comfort zones. It follows that our relationships with others are affected too, and often our own individual stress has a huge negative impact on those around us, both at work and at home.
Stress can also have a physical effect on our bodies; increased production of adrenaline and noradrenalin can raise blood pressure, and we may feel nausea, headaches, loss of appetite, and fatigue. Although not directly linked to heart attacks or heart disease, it is accepted that stress leads us to what the British Heart Foundation call “high risk activities”, such as smoking and drinking , which we may overdo in our bid to distract and distance ourselves from our issues. Stress at work is therefore a serious risk to our wellbeing, not to mention our productivity and mental health at work, and it is particularly problematic for men who as a general rule are less likely to discuss mental health issues or ask for help; statistics show that a third of men in full time employment feel constantly stressed and under pressure .
So why, in our modern society, is talking about stress still taboo? We can no longer ignore the fact that stress at work has become a major global problem. It is said to be responsible for 35% of all work-related cases of ill health  and is costing employers around £30 billion a year. The demands and expectations of 21st century life have led to the creation of a superhuman figure, a workaholic high-flying socialite husband/wife/father/mother/friend (the list goes on). Perhaps this superhuman does exist – but for most of us, this idea of organisational invincibility is a myth and a pressure. Social expectation means that admitting to stress is raising a white flag and asking for help, leaving us vulnerable to others whom we fear may be better equipped to deal with our workload pressures.
In order to change attitudes towards stress we need to see change firstly in professional environments. HSE carried out a case study in 2005, the aim of which was: “Establishing the business case for investing in stress prevention activities and evaluating their impact on sickness absence levels” . Key pressures identified included work overload, impacts of organisational change, and the threat of, or actual, violence and verbal abuse. The study also highlighted high levels of stress being caused by the impact of IT and a lack of associated training. By implementing a series of workload and system reviews and personal development programmes, and by encouraging personal reflection, the study resulted in meaningful change for the employees. The results included better than average health, higher levels of exercise, better working relationships and good levels of work satisfaction.
It is becoming ever more widely accepted that emotional intelligence is essential for business success, and it is therefore of the utmost importance that employers themselves create open and supportive environments from the nucleus of their organisation outward. The implementation of a support network is an excellent way of monitoring employees who may be at risk and of preventing stress-related issues from spiralling out of control. Independent organisations can also provide desperately needed resources in terms of information, services and treatments in addition to general publicity and heightened awareness. The Men’s Health Forum in particular offers online forums and advice on stress , enabling those who feel embarrassed to speak anonymously with others who are trying to cope with similar problems. Needless to say, good levels of work satisfaction will lead to better mental and physical health within the working community, which will have enormous effect on the economy as a whole through improved productivity, reduced sickness absence, and lower levels of depression; thus encouraging and a generally happier and healthier population.
Article by: Kyna Bowers
 In 2014-2015 http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/index.htm