Stress – the office bug that undermines your brand culture.

I’m delighted to welcome regular contributions to this blog from Dr.Yolande Coombes, one of the very few Rapid Transformational Therapists in Africa and a trusted colleague at The Brand Inside.

I expect you’ve noticed the colds and stomach bugs that pass around your office, but something much more contagious and damaging to your business is being passed around; and it goes by the name of ‘stress’.

Stress shouldn’t be thought of lightly; it’s the common thread in a host of diseases from heart attacks, strokes and cancer to diabetes, hypertension and depression.  Stress can exacerbate just about any health condition you can think of.  That’s why stress is directly affecting the performance of your business.

A study of organisations listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange demonstrated a high correlation between stress and corporate performance.  We also know that EU countries lose Euros 136 billion annually from stress-related loss of productivity and sick leave. In the US this rises to between $200 and $300 billion annually when you include productivity loss, staff turnover and compensation claims.  Research also shows that stress in a business contributes to at least 60% of workplace accidents and 30% of worker mistakes.

So how do you know if the people around you are stressed?  Just look for irritability, lack of concentration, anger, poor self-esteem, depression and anxiety.   Low motivation, low job satisfaction and organisational commitment are all highly correlated with stress.  Employees under high levels of stress cost 40% more than the average worker, and stress may also contribute to increased instances of unethical behaviour, like lying to customers or taking shortcuts on work tasks.Stress is catching. Remember the waves of panic spreading outside the exam hall at your school?  Unlike a well-caught sneeze in a tissue, stress can be caught just by watching.  Seeing colleagues—especially Managers—operate at a frenzied, frantic pace can make that behaviour contagious.  Not only are low-morale employees not working to their potential, they are more likely to engage in counterproductive behaviour, spreading low morale like a virus.

High levels of stress directly correlate to employee disengagement. It was a shock to me to discover that only 13% of employees in the world are actively engaged i.e. enthused and committed to making positive contributions to their organisation. A recent Gallup survey also showed that 1 in 3 workers in sub-Saharan Africa  are ‘actively disengaged’ – they are unhappy people who are unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to co-workers.   So, bottom line – the bulk of your workers are disengaged, lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in your organisational goals.

Most conscientious HR leaders know that a workplace stress management programme can hugely benefit productivity and staff morale. The problem lies in convincing Senior Management that stress relief programmes are not just ‘nice to have’, they are in fact essential tools for improving the health of employees… and the business.  60% of employees say they’d feel more motivated and more likely to recommend their organisation as a good place to work if their employer acted to support mental wellbeing.

The good news is that there is a lot that can be done to reduce stress in the workplace, and the return on investment is worth it.  Employers can enjoy major financial returns and competitive advantages through higher employee engagement, productivity and workplace morale.

FTSE 100 companies who prioritise employee mental health wellbeing outperform others by 10%.  With the knowledge that for every $1 spent on treatment for common mental health disorders (anxiety and depression) there is a $4 return from workplace productivity –  shouldn’t you consider implementing a mental health wellbeing programme in your company?

Dr. Yolande Coombes

Coaching and Wellness


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