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Let’s talk about stress

Wednesday 7th November saw the 14th National Stress Awareness Day. The focus this year was on drawing attention to stress in the work place, and encouraging people to identify and combat this.

Statistics show that stress in the work place has significant consequences for individuals, as well employers and the broader economy. Stress is now the single biggest cause of sickness in UK. It can lead to chronic illness, lower job satisfaction and efficiency at work, and may even lead to resignations and higher staff turnover, all of which impact company profits. In the UK, it accounts for 150 million lost working days each year, costing employers approximately £1.24 billion.

Evidence suggests that reducing stress in the work place has positive benefits for company performance. The Sunday Times conducted a study amongst FTSE 100 companies which showed that companies where staff well-being is higher have 13% lower staff turnover, lower staff absence and consistently outperform others.

However while reducing stress is not only important for individuals but also for companies, reasons for it can be difficult to pinpoint. Often these may be down to individual factors. How one person deals with a pressured situation can be quite different to another. Other factors may include difficult life circumstances or just generally lack of career satisfaction. However there are some generic factors that have been found to potentially increase stress levels. These include working in high pressure situations, lots of redundancies taking place, tensions amongst staff members and a long working hours culture.

Even when reasons can be identified, solutions may not be straightforward.  Individuals may be reluctant to admit that they are feeling stressed, fearing that it may lead people to think they are complaining or that they are not able to handle their job. Similarly, it may also be a difficult subject to ask someone about, without making them feel paranoid about how their performance is being perceived or adding to their stress. Solutions therefore need to be specific to the individual’s needs or to the working culture of each company.

Also, despite a company’s best efforts, stresses at work may not disappear. It is therefore important for individuals to find ways to manage and cope with these. For me, hobbies, particularly ones that allow you to be physically active, are fundamental to this.

This weekend I was at the Virgin Active Health Club in Chiswick, which is one of London’s premier health clubs. Here, membership will set you back £200 per month. It’s a hot spot for a number of bankers and lots of others in high earning, high pressured jobs. Places like these act as a haven for people to relax and get away from the stresses of work and daily lives. We can’t all afford to go there, but finding some sort of sporting or physical activity of our own is possible. There are well known health benefits associated with such activities, including the release of endorphins which make you feel more relaxed. This can make you more productive, to the point where something that may take you 3 hours to complete when tired or stressed, could take 30 minutes when you are refreshed and able to concentrate better.

There are also mental benefits to such activities, which are often discussed less but need to be given more attention. Having something else to focus on and work towards outside of work can be fun and a great way to socialise. Also, seeing yourself visibly improve in something through hard work and determination can be a great confidence booster. On those hard days at work, this can be a great way to restore your faith in our own abilities!

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