The Cost of Stress

The Cost of Stress

Cost of stress image - heart stethoscopeDid you know that in 2011, sickness absence due to stress cost organisations an average of £673 per employee per year? Indirect costs have been estimated as twice the amount of direct costs, so the total business cost per employee is nearer £2,000 per year.

The 2011 CIPD/Simply Health Annual Absence Management Report shows Stress as the most common cause of long-term sickness absence for the first time. Workplace stress affects over 400,000 people a year, which can be reflected in productivity, staff turnover, grievances and litigation.   For example, in 1995 a Northumberland Council Employee was awarded damages of £175,000 after the Council was found in “breach of its duty of care in failing to take reasonable steps to avoid exposing the employee to a health endangering workload”.

While CIPD research shows workload and management style as the top two causes of work-related stress, it has also found that 60% of stress-related absence is for non-work causes. Whatever the cause, helping employees to identify and cope with stress must be worth it. When Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council implemented a new stress management policy (aiming to reduce the cost of stress) in 2008 it reduced stress-related sickness days from 52,893 to 39,699.

Taking the cost of stress seriously

Many organisations have yet to take stress and the cost of stress seriously.  A recent survey by Office Team found that 28% of HR Directors has no policy in place to manage employee stress and anxiety, let alone the cost of stress to the organisation. For those embarking on stress management, there is plenty of guidance at hand. The British Standards Institute published PAS 1010, its code of practice on the management of psychosocial risk, in 2011, building on the HSE’s Management Standards for Work-related Stress. This summer CIPD and HSE published together a management competency assessment tool to help line managers assess whether they currently have the behaviours identified as effective for preventing and reducing stress at work.

Elements of  a stress management policy

A policy to reduce the costs of stress typically includes a stress audit and three possible levels of intervention. As well as return to work interviews, stress risk assessments are very helpful in identifying areas of concern and help meet the legal requirement to assess the risks to health in an organisation. While desk-based assessments are better than nothing, a stress survey can identify important hotspots in an organisation and contribute to an informed stress management policy.  Once management issues have been addressed (Primary Interventions), preventative measures such as stress management training (Secondary Interventions) can help employees cope with daily stress that is not structural. Tertiary Interventions including counselling services can help with employees who are already debilitated by stress. measuring and reporting on the cost of stress at board level is a great lever for change.

The importance of communication in reducing the cost of stress

Having a stress management policy in place, it needs to be publicised throughout the organisation. This is where stress awareness campaigns, such as those on National Stress Awareness Day can help. As psychologist Nathaniel Branden said, “The first step toward change is awareness”.

Managing stress and the cost of stress is the responsibility of all managers  and all employees in an organisation.

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