Increased employee stress levels caused by credit crunch prompts new guidance for managers


Stress at work is a serious problem for employees and employers. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (“CIPD”), ill health relating to stress at work has doubled between 1990 and 2007 and stress is now the second biggest cause of employee absence (only beaten by musculoskeletal conditions).

According to the latest statistics, the problems caused by stress at work are going to get worse. The World Health Organisation (“WHO”) has predicted that stress other mental health problems will escalate in the next few years as a result of the Credit Crunch. This is supported by a recent survey of 3,000 employees published by the CIPD, which stated that half of all of those surveyed had seen an increase in stress at work as a result of the downturn.

According to the CIPD, stress is problematic because long-term exposure to stress has not only been linked to illnesses such as anxiety and depression, but also several physical conditions including headaches and back pain, as well as more serious conditions such as heart disease.

Investors in People (“IIP”) states that when employees suffer from stress their productivity goes down, which is a particular problem for employers right now when budgets are tightening.

The current problems caused by the economic downturn are causing employers to try and cut costs; however in some cases this has led to managers not being given sufficient training. Because managers do not receive enough training, this can lead to them not being able to lead their teams efficiently. This leads to conflict and stress levels at work rising, which in turn means that employees have to take time off work or leave their employment altogether and productivity drops even further.

IIP states that if employers wish to ensure the future growth of their organisations once the current economic troubles are over, it is vital that employees are provided with support. According to the CIPD, research has found that employers who invest in training for managers to deal with stress at work benefit from and lower staff turnover and an increase in commitment in employees, while employees enjoyed reduced stress and increased motivation.

In 2007 the CIPD, the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) and IIP joined together to begin a four-year project to try to identify what actions by managers in organisations will help to reduce stress at work. Initial guidance was published in March 2007 and the latest guidance was published on the 4 June 2009. So far hundreds of managers and employees have been interviewed or surveyed in the project and the training managers receive in stress management has been analysed in 17 separate organisations.

Following the results of this research, new guidance called “Line Management Behaviour and Stress at Work” has been published in order to give organisations (and in particular HR and line managers) practical help to tackle and reduce stress at work. There are four main areas which the guidance states managers should be trained in and their abilities within these areas should be analysed. The areas are:

  • managing and communicating existing and future work
  • reasoning / managing difficult situations
  • managing the individual within the team
  • managing emotions and having integrity

The guidance includes a framework for HR managers to use when analysing line managers abilities to manage stress at work and what skills line managers need when acting to reduce and prevent stress at work. It is hoped that HR and line managers will be able to apply this guidance to train and help managers to reduce stress at work so that employees and employers may benefit in the future.

This article was written by Emma Dickinson.

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