What is the reality of stress at work?
Nearly 6 out of 10 workers said that the work environment was making them feel stressed and under pressure. Employees were working longer hours, taking fewer lunch breaks and spending less time on leisure activity. Moreover, instead of turning to their employers for help, they were smoking, indulging in a poor diet and drinking alcohol to help them deal with the stress.
The situation was already having an adverse effect on employees health and wellbeing, with nearly half of workers struggling to sleep due to work related-stress, and a third suffering from neck and backache.
Twelve months on, although we are officially out of the recession, the economic climate remains a Challenge and businesses continue to focus on their bottom line like never before. This years health of the workplace report revisited the work environment to find out whether business leaders were still preoccupied with profit and productivity or if they had started to acknowledge the importance of employee health and wellbeing too.
Have employer views of wellbeing changed?
It looks as though things could be moving in the right direction, with more than a quarter (27%) of employers saying that their main priority is to create a motivated team who enjoy working together and 25% saying that their number one priority is achieving a friendly company with a good work/life balance.
However, the emphasis on profit over 'softer values' is still key with 31% of business owners saying they are looking for maximum productivity for head count creating difficult working conditions for their workforce.
Nearly half of the 1,000 employees (47%) say they feel much tenser at work than in their home life, with only 10% saying they are more stressed at home. The situation is not helped by the fact that although 50% of managers consider themselves to be good role models, 45% admit to being stressed at work themselves.
The knock-on effects on employees health and wellbeing are clear as 1 in 5 (19%) says they think their bosses create a stressful environment.
Have motivational employee initiaves worked?
There are positive signs however, with nearly a third (30%) of employees agreeing that their boss ensures that they have a good work/life balance. Overall workplace morale appears to be improving and as part of this, almost half (46%) of employers say they hold regular social events for their staff.
There's evidence however, that some employers well-intentioned morale-boosters may not be having the desired effect. Over half (52%) of employees are less than enthusiastic about going out with their wider team, bringing into question the value employers get by funding these events. Perhaps surprisingly, 1 in 5 employees openly admits that they dont like socialising with their colleagues and a further 15% feel obliged to show their face, but dont really enjoy it.
Employee wellbeing does appear to be dependent on who you work for with company size continuing to play a key role in business priorities. The smaller the company, the more important work/life balance is thought to be, with half of companies with less than nine employees, citing this as their number one priority for the business, this falls to just 12% for companies with over 100 employees.
In the short-term, this strategy of profit over people can sustain a business through a difficult trading period, but it is likely to undermine business performance in the longer term by damaging staff morale and allowing conditions like stress to flourish.
What should employers now focus on?
Employers need to find the right balance and, while its good to see HR opting for social events, they would be wise to consider if they might be better off investing in wellness initiatives that support the mental and physical wellbeing of their team as well as building team spirit.
Interest in workplace wellness is growing and it comes as no surprise that Buck Consultants third annual global wellness survey, Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies, predicts that the fastest-growing components of wellness initiatives around the world, mainly technology driven tool such as web portals, are expected to increase 100% or more over the next three years.
Our research underlines the need to foster employee health and wellness and introduces a programme that not only gives employees the ability to take charge of their health requirements, but also rewards them for doing so.
Recent product development means that in addition to the range of wellness focused Benefits now available as standard on many health insurance policies, theres a whole host of occupational health services available to complement the private medical insurance scheme. These include health screenings, employee assistance programmes and workplace wellness initiatives such as Avivas MyHealthCounts for business.
With evidence showing a significant return on investment for companies who introduce workplace wellness programmes, and employers increasingly recognising the value of keeping their employees healthy and happy in the workplace, we believe that 2010 could see a welcome return to the supportive workplace environment that has been eroded by the difficult trading conditions of recent years.