High degrees of stress threaten workplace productivity

The worldwide economic troubles as well as increased costs of daily living are having an impact on businesses as employees fail to function optimally, resulting in poor performance and lost time.

Manpower South Africa and clinical psychologist Dr Giada Del Fabbro discuss how stress levels are impacting on South African corporate productivity.

“Extreme stress can drastically alter a persons behaviour, health and performance. For many though, the impact can be significantly minimised through the right attitude and approach to dealing with stress.

This is however becoming such a prominent problem in the workplace that many employers are now needing to find ways to assist their employees in managing stress in order to keep their businesses operating effectively,” says Lyndy van den Barselaar, managing director for Manpower South Africa.

“Stress severely decreases the psychological resources and coping skills of an individual, so you are less able to manage your emotions, deal with pressure and more likely to act out destructively. Problem solving and decision-making skills are impaired. Stress further impacts the immune system meaning that a person is more likely to get ill and exhibit prolonged recovery periods, leading to lower productivity.

Increased conflict between employees is one sign of a stressful working environment, but it also negatively affects work-place performance and results in increased absenteeism, to name just a few common symptoms.

States Dr Del Fabbro, “Less common or noticeable symptoms include those individual psychological mechanisms based on escapism, where lifestyle habits undergo changes. This can include the abuse of illegal substances, even within the workplace environment, an increase in entitlement and resentment towards senior staff to compensate for the feelings of stress. It may also include an increase in risk taking behaviours in the form of office affairs, theft and fraud, physical confrontations and changes in grooming habits.”

“In response to stress, people may become more immature and child like in their responses, which may result in spiteful acts such as car damage, bullying, viruses, and social media hacking. In certain vulnerable personalities, there are pre-existing and ongoing psychological problems that may result in extreme behaviour such as violence with the intent to kill a fellow employee or hurt the business,” says Dr Giada Del Fabbro, A Clinical Psychologist.

All individuals experience stress of different types from different levels and in different aspects of life. However each individual also deals with these stresses in unique and individual ways. Some are better than others and for some, who have very poor stress management strategies, even the smallest incidents in their lives can result in large doses of performance effecting stress.

“In most cases HR departments and businesses are realising that prevention is better than cure and implementing the right channels and actions to curb and lessen stress on employees can lead to heightened performance and reduced downtime. It’s estimated that 40% of employee absenteeism is attributable to stress and this results in millions in lost revenue each year for businesses. It is estimated that over 500 million rand is lost each year from absenteeism and loss of productivity due to stress in the workplace,” explains van den Bareselaar.

Since 1946 The World Health Organisation has defined health as not only the absence of disease but a state of complete physical mental and social well-being. In 1986, it included that health be viewed as a resource for everyday life, not the object of living. The South African federation of Mental Health has stated that the majority of adults spend 50% to 80% of their waking hours at the workplace, and just under 70% of employees will experience stress severe enough to inhibit coping with their day-to-day duties.

Numerous factors are currently leading to heightened stress levels, both around the world and here in South Africa. With global economic woes threatening job security, continual increases in costs pushing already strained budgets even further, businesses cutting back on staff counts because of the rising costs of business overheads and an increase in social stresses brought on by political insecurity, employees are feeling more pressures from within and without the workplace than ever before.

“Everybody experiences some form of stress in their daily lives and it’s important to find ways to reduce stress levels. Some of these strategies are quite simple and easy to implement, some require a simple mind-set change as to how individuals perceive stress. For employers it’s important to remember that allowing their employees to partake in actions that reduce stress can actually improve employee performance. Remember the power of time for employees, it is often more persuasive than money in improving performance or creating gratitude.”

“It’s important that employees remember that things are not always as bad as they appear and that they take time to relax and forget their troubles for a while with friends or family. Like Kurt Vonnegut says ‘Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you'll look back and realize they were big things,” says Dr Del Fabbro.

“In addition, Human Resource Departments, together with line managers, should play a far greater role in assisting employees with managing stress, and should be trained to identify the early stages of stress so as to ensure employees get the correct treatment and support to offset the probability of under performance, absenteeism, increased emotional tensions, and violent behaviour,” concludes van den Bareselaar.

Signs to look for that may suggest succumbing to stress include:

• Frequent illness
• Constantly tired
• Irritability and mood swings
• Lack of concentration
• Fidgeting
• Drug and alcohol abuse
• Break down of relationships
• Suicidal tendencies

Some strategies for combating stress in the workplace:

• Leisure time – Take time to relax enjoy a hobby or do some exercise.
• Positive relationships – Friends and family will lighten the burden of everyday stresses.
• Social Interaction – Getting out with friends and socialising is a great cure for stress.
• Diet and exercise – Eating healthily and getting regular cardiovascular exercise will positively affect your hormones and chemistry of your body.
• Time management – Time management is crucial to combat the feeling of never getting enough done on time.
• Don’t take life so seriously – Stop to smell the roses sometimes and put things into perspective.
• Talk – your HR department and your line manager should be there to help you, so take the time to talk to them about what is troubling you. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them, contact a counsellor or Life Line.

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