Workplace stress: What’s happening?
According to the 2016 Labour Force Survey, 17.11 million working days were lost during 2015/2016 due to stress, accounting for 45% of sickness absence. These figures are startling enough, but the impact of workplace stress is not restricted to sickness absence alone. Stressed employees may be tired, demotivated, complaining, indecisive, irritable, tearful, unable to concentrate and forgetful. They may also experience physical illnesses such as backache, stomach problems, chest discomfort or general aches and pains. All these symptoms of stress can have a negative impact on productivity, quality of work, teamwork and customer relationships.
Sources of workplace stress
The causes of employee stress in the workplace are numerable and may even combine multiple factors. However, sources can include: heavy workload, lack of control, too much responsibility, inadequate working environment (e.g. cramped or noisy conditions, incorrect lighting, poor seating, unreliable equipment), shift work, tight deadlines, lack of management support, not being involved or consulted, change, poor relationship with manager or other staff, bullying, harassment, long hours, discrimination, lack of training to perform adequately in the job and lack of recognition.
Workplace stress: What can be done?
The detrimental effect of workplace stress has gained increased recognition but workplace interventions often focus on approaches to stress reduction that address ‘external’ factors only. For example, caring employers may introduce flexible working practices to support work/life balance or time management training to aid frazzled employees, but while these approaches are very important and beneficial they address only part of the picture. With stress such a serious problem, the internal factors affecting stress – the mind and its individual way of perceiving the world – also need to be addressed.
One way of approaching these internal factors which is proving very helpful is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of bringing full awareness to the present moment in an attitude of acceptance and impartial observation. By accepting what is already here, rather than avoiding or fighting against the experiences we don’t want or like, we may experience less stress and become more resilient to the ups and downs of working life.
Introducing mindfulness into the workplace
A workplace culture incorporating mindfulness can be enormously beneficial to both employers and employees. Studies investigating mindfulness in the workplace have found that mindfulness reduces stress and emotional exhaustion, and improves psychological well-being, mood, resilience, sleep quality, engagement with work and job satisfaction.
When looking for a stress management course, choose one that incorporates mindfulness and which is run by a qualified practitioner trained by one of the leading mindfulness training organisations such as the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University, the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, Exeter University or Aberdeen University. Look also for a trainer committed to their ongoing professional development and with a regular mindfulness practice of their own.
© Michelle Drapeau, 2017