Australia is the 9th hardest working nation in the OECD, with full-time workers working an average of 43.2 hours per week.*
Spare a thought then, for the 1.7 million Australians working in excess of 49 hours each week.
That’s around 1 in 7 Australians. And knowledge workers are most at risk, typically falling prey to the technological advances which allow them to take work home – advances which have impacted our work culture to such a degree that workers find themselves unable to switch off, and answerable to their work responsibilities at all times.
Long Hours, Unrealistic Deadlines & Job Insecurity
Of course, long hours are only one of the contributors to workplace stress.
The top 5 workplace stressors are:
1. Long Hours and/or Insufficient Breaks
2. Heavy Workloads and/or Unrealistic Deadlines
3. Poor Communication
5. Job Insecurity
Workplace stress is normal, and can even help motivate employees to complete a task within a certain timeframe, or find new and creative ways to solve a problem. Nonetheless, it is important for employers to recognise when work-related stress is starting to overwhelm and interfere not just with the mental health of your staff, but the quality of the work they are doing. Developing staff resilience in the face of change is also key.
The Facts on Workplace Stress
The facts are:
– 32% of Australians report that workplace issues are a major cause of stress in their lives**
– Prolonged stress or excessive stress is a major risk factor for developing a mental illness**
– 45% of Australians will experience a mental illness at some point in their life.
The good news: Your organisational culture can be easily adapted to reduce work-related stress. Here’s how:
Steps to Reducing Workplace Stress
STEP 1: CONDUCT AN AUDIT.
Conduct an audit to determine the levels of stress in your organisation. Ask yourself and your staff these important questions:
Q. Are your staff working too long?
Q. Are they working too hard?
Q. Do managers expect too much from them within time frames which are too short?
Q. Do staff feel well supported by managers?
Q. Are your staff logging in at night, or answering emails at odd hours?
Q. Are they expected to be responsive to clients or managers after hours?
Open up a forum of discussion with your staff and managers around these topics. Good communication is imperative to a healthy and productive workplace so make sure your staff know that your door is always open. A culture of open communication and support for stress-related illness is important in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, and enabling your workers to get help when they need it.
STEP 2: MAKE CHANGE.
Make changes to address the causes of undue stress in your workplace, and encourage a workplace that promotes good mental health:
– Make sure your staff are well supported in their work
– Adapt workplace expectations so that your staff are working to reasonable deadlines
– Reward over-time with time in lieu
– Encourage your staff to take lunch breaks
– Discourage reading or sending emails after hours
– Ensure your managers are well-trained in up-to-date management techniques
– Organise stress-releasing activities for your staff such as a walking group, yoga, team-sport or meditation.
STEP 3: KEEP A PROACTIVE EYE ON YOUR STAFF.
Increase awareness of the support you offer, and your open-door policy when it comes to mental health. Keep a pro-active eye on your staff and watch out for the following signs of stress:
– Seeming overwhelmed
– Frequent absences or sick leave
– Failure to meet deadlines
– Easily irritated
– Low self-confidence
– Excessive worry or agitation
Australian businesses are making progress.
In 2014, Australians reported notable reductions in stress-induced illness than in the previous year, although those reported were still higher than in 2011 and 2012**. Nonetheless, these figures are promising, and suggest that Australian workplaces are making small but steady headway in the fight against undue stress and mental illness.
Adopting a workplace culture that promotes healthy performance and limits undue stress is better for business. Supporting staff who fall through the cracks is part of the picture. As business leaders, those responsibilities lie with us.
*Approximately on par with the UK, New Zealand and Austria, and slightly more than full-time workers in Germany. The Danish work the least (38.3 hours for full-time workers): Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Aug 2014
**Stress & Wellbeing in Australia Survey 2014 , Australian Psychological Society