“Every difficulty in life,” wrote the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths…dig deeply. You possess strengths you might not realise you have. Find the right one. Use it.”
Workplace stress is a hot topic at the moment. Organisations across the UK and Ireland, such as the mental health charity Mind, the UK Institute of Directors and the health company Vhi report very concerning statistics.
More than one in five corporate staff is extremely or very stressed, yet only half of those who had experienced problems with stress, anxiety or low mood had talked to their employer about it. Fifty per cent of people surveyed feel they must disguise the stress that they feel at work in order to maintain their career prospects. Contributing factors include poor relationships with line managers, along with workload, as having the biggest negative impact on mental health, closely followed by poor relationships with colleagues. Despite these numbers, less than one in five firms offered mental health training for managers.
Still, even the most sympathetic management team need to keep their business going. These issues have an impact on productivity. Employees are spending an average of 2.5 weeks a year at work despite feeling unwell, meaning they are ill for longer in work than they are off sick. Nottingham Business School reported that employees are operating at an average of 84% full capacity, making a lost productivity cost to the employer of £4,058.93 per person per annum. In the long term, this is simply not sustainable: the evidence for the relationship between well-being and both engagement and retention is undeniable.
Returning to Epictetus, what if we reoriented our relationship with stress? What if we shifted focus, from the traditional deficit model (the negative impact of stress) to a strengths model (how stress can help us grow)? Part of this comes from our relationship with work. Rather than ‘dealing with’ stress that is exacerbated by work, what if we do work that gives us energy?
One thing is absolutely certain: this is a whole-organisation approach. While there is only positives to be gained from being more conscious of one’s diet, taking more exercise, building an organisation that advances wellbeing involves so much more – and is the ultimate win-win for all parties.
Management need to be educated on mental health presentations, and how stress and resilience interact. It is time to dispel myths and to empower staff to be able to have crucial conversations with those who need it most. It’s time to look at your organisational culture, and how it supports workers to be at their best. No two workers are the same, so the person-organisation fit is critical, and how all parties need to take an honest and accurate look at what they need from this relationship.
Finally, presenteeism does not equal productivity: it’s time to look at how well we all use our time. Quite simply, our health depends on it.