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Highly stressed workers much more likely to be disengaged

The impact of stress on worker effectiveness has been laid bare by new research from HR consultancy Towers Watson.

Stress and productivity

Its study into Health, Wellbeing and Productivity found that employees describing themselves as highly stressed lost 77 per cent more days (4.6 days) to absence on average than low-stressed employees (2.6).

They lost a further 50 per cent more time to presenteeism (attending work when unwell and unproductive), than their less-stressed peers.

Engagement scores were also hit. Well over half (57 per cent) of highly stressed employees said they felt disengaged from work, while only one in ten low-stressed workers were disengaged.

Conversely, almost half (59 per cent) of low-stressed respondents said they were highly engaged, but only 8 per cent of highly stressed workers could say the same.

Cause of stress 'disconnect'

Most employers know that it's important to tackle stress, but there appears to be a 'disconnect' in perceptions between employers and employees on its causes.

Employers think that lack of work/life balance, inadequate staffing and expanded technology (the capability of reaching workers at home on email and the like), are the top three causes of stress, according to the Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey.

Meanwhile, employees said that inadequate staffing, low pay, and unclear job expectations were the three top causes of stress.

More than half of employees said that inadequate staffing was the biggest factor, but only 15 per cent of managers said that this was an issue.


The mismatch creates the potential that employers divert resources to fixing the wrong problems, 'alienating employees and suffering the business consequences of increased absence, presenteeism and unwanted turnover', the report said.

Relief and support

The answer, it said, is a 'well-defined strategy' and a culture change, including stress relief support, physical activities, and resilience management programmes.

Managers need to know how to recognise and manage employee stress, and encourage employees to take their full vacation time, it said.

'If leaders want to promote a lower stress environment in their workplace, it's vital they understand the real causes of stress in their organisation. These can be areas that are not immediately visible to mangers, such as good communication and feedback structures,' the author said.

Acas publications and services

Acas has published the Advisory booklet - Stress at work, which aims to help stress reduction in the workplace, addressing its causes and coping with its symptoms.

Acas experts can visit your organisation and help you develop and introduce a 'health, work and wellbeing' policy and culture at your workplace, also identifying the causes of stress, absenteeism, and high staff turnover. See Health, wellbeing and managing attendance for more information.

Practical Acas training on Health, work and wellbeing, Stress, and Staff retention covers topics such as tackling 'Toxic workplace cultures', 'The route to successful employee engagement', and 'Building Stress Resilience in the Workplace'.

For free, impartial advice on any employment relations issue, call the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100, or consult Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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