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The Link Between Stress and Productivity

Updated: Mar 20


  • 79% have experienced stress caused by work [1]

  • 7% have had suicidal thoughts because of work [4]

  • 57% habitually drink after work to cope with work-related stress [4]

  • Only 1/5 of employees feel comfortable enough to talk to their boss about stress. [1]

  • 2 in 5 people have taken sick days because of stress. [2]

  • 43% of these people experience sleep loss due to work related stress [1]

  • A 2018 report found that work related stress alone costs UK businesses approximately 17.2 billion each year. [5]

  • Results from a survey on how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted stress in workplace, found that 7 in 10 employees reported it to be the most stressful experience of their entire career. [3]

  • 62% of these individuals reported losing at least 1 hour of productivity a day which if continued equates to around 32 working days a year [3]

I think that you will agree that these figures are quite staggering. Take a minute to think about what this means for your business, both presently and going forward into the future.


It is certainly likely that as an employer or manager you will have witnessed the signs of stress in staff several times throughout your career. You may have even experienced it first-hand yourself. Typical warning signs include being absent from work, turning up late, making mistakes and/or producing low quality work.


To prevent and reduce stress, I strongly believe that it is absolutely necessary for every person responsible for managing a member of staff within the workplace to understand why it happens and how it is linked to productivity.


A little bit of stress can make us motivated, feel like we are firing on all cylinders and generally just make us feel good. Too much stress on the other hand can make us feel overwhelmed and feel like we have lost all control over our life. As a therapist, it is this lack of control that appears to be the most pervasive indicator of chronic stress and is something that I hear time and time again from my clients. 


The reason for this is stress activates our fight or flight response when we are exposed to something that threatens our safety or equilibrium. In small doses this stress response can motivate us to make the necessary changes required in order to return to our original state but when we do not have the resources at hand to achieve this, our brain is continually flooded with a stress hormone called cortisol which it is unable to release. This hormone if built up over a long period of time actually damages the structure of our brain which is why it is incorrect to refer to stress as a mental health problem as it is very much a physiological one.


Some of the things often experienced during stress include:


Lack of energy- High intensity stress can in fact deplete us of the nutrients which help us to produce the right amount of energy needed for our day to day life. The high levels of cortisol can also disrupt our sleep cycle which leaves us feeling exhausted and lethargic each morning. These are just some of the many ways that stress impacts our energy levels.


Poor attention– It is hardly surprising that when we feel threatened that our entire focus and attention is fixated on the threat at hand. If you were to walk down a dark alleyway alone at night and heard some movement, naturally you would fixate your attention to where the noise was coming from. While the stress we experience at work, is highly unlikely to be as dangerous, the exact same neurological system is activated which makes it difficult to focus on anything else.


Change in mood – Chronic Stress depletes a hormone called serotonin and dopamine, two hormones which are thought to be involved in depression. Depression can cause us to experience overwhelming sadness or emptiness, irritability and feelings of worthlessness. 


Poor memory – When we experience chronic stress over a long period of time, a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in memory processing, shrinks and makes it difficult to form new memories. Stress also affects the pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for working memory, making it difficult to remember to do things.


Throw all these symptoms into the same mixing pot and its hardly surprising that while stressed, it is pretty difficult to be productive and carry out tasks to the best of our ability. 


The next time that your staff are showing signs of work-related stress, remember that it is not because there is something ‘wrong’ with them or because they are weak; it is most likely to stem from the fact that they haven’t learned or been provided with the tools to manage it.


We live in an ever-increasing fast paced society where we have reduced resources and lets be realistic, time is money so sometimes changing deadlines and removing pressures to alleviate stress is not always possible (Although this can and should be addressed through innovative and creative problem solving which deserves a whole article on its own)


As an employer therefore it is essential to take responsibility for your part and ask yourself whether you have provided your employees with the adequate tools necessary to carry out the job at hand.


It might seem cliched but in the famous words of John. F Kennedy ‘Ask not what your country (employees) can do for you – ask what you can do for your country (employees)

.

If you would like to support your staff with their stress levels, check out our

'Understanding and Managing Stress' E-Learning



References

[1] Perkbox. 2020. The 2020 UK workplace stress survey. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.perkbox.com/uk/resources/library/2020-workplace-stress-survey. [Accessed 10 August 2020].


[2] CIPD in partnership with Simply Health. (2020). Health and Wellbeing at work Available at: http:// https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/health-and-well-being-2020-report_tcm18-73967.pdf [Accessed Date 10 Aug 2020].


[3] AMJC. 2020. How Has COVID-19 Affected Mental Health, Severity of Stress Among Employees? Available at: https://www.ajmc.com/view/how-has-covid19-affected-mental-health-severity-of-stress-among-employees [Accessed Date 10 Aug 2020]


[4] Mind. 2013. Mind assesses research linking work with stress.. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/work-is-biggest-cause-of-stress-in-peoples-lives/. [Accessed 10 August 2020]. 


[5] Work in Mind. 2019. Presenteeism & ill health: the cost to British businesses is £61 billion a year [ONLINE] Available at https://workinmind.org/2019/04/15/presenteeeism-ill-health [Accessed 10 August 2020]. 

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