Businesses would benefit from greater awareness of stress

UK businesses could stand to save £8 billion annually if they were to focus on handling the problems caused by workplace stress.

That is according to Mind, the mental health charity.

Following on from a study by the charity, it was estimated that firms lose up to £26 billion a year in absence and missed productivity but that some £8 billion could be recouped if more attention was paid by employers to the stresses and strains that employees find themselves under.

The Mind report claimed that four out of ten workers (41 per cent) experience stress at work, making their jobs more of a source of concern to them than personal finances, personal relationships and their health.

Almost a half expressed worries about taking time off sick for stress-related complaints (48 per cent), while one in five believed that a mention of the pressures they were under could lead them to losing their jobs.

To make matters worse, the effects of the economic downturn has fuelled the worries and unease of many workers, with a third reporting additional pressures exerted by a reduction in workplace budgets.

Apart from having to deal with budget cuts and fears of redundancy, other areas in which stress levels have increased include excessive workloads, unrealistic sales targets, and overstretched management.

Mind described the prevalence of stress in the workplace as an "elephant in the room".

The charity urged employers to take a series of steps designed to reduce its impact. These include encouraging open and supportive work environments, treating mental health issues with the same importance as physical health problems, making the support of staff wellbeing a corporate priority, and introducing workplace mental health policies.

Paul Farmer, Mind's chief executive, commented: "Pressure and stress may be part of our working lives, but failing to recognise that everyone has a limit is a mistake that costs businesses billions of pounds a year. Stigma is so great employees worry that even mentioning stress will lose them their jobs. 

"Right now, workers are under more pressure than ever before as staff numbers decrease, work increases, and people worry if they'll even have a job to go to tomorrow. Rather than shying away from the issue, it's more important than ever that businesses invest in staff wellbeing and encourage an open culture, where staff can come forward about the pressures they are feeling and be supported.

"Making a workplace more mentally healthy doesn't need to cost the earth. Simple, practical changes can have big results such as making sure your staff take proper breaks or giving them the chance to talk about work pressures. Some businesses are already seeing this approach pay off, reducing sickness absence, cutting costs and being rewarded with a productive and committed workforce."