The long-lasting negative impact of workplace stress

According to researchers from Harvard Business School and Stanford University in the US, employees in stressful and demanding jobs are much more likely to suffer mental and physical illness. The research finds that job insecurity raises the odds of reporting poor health by approximately 50%, that high job demands increase the odds of having a doctor-diagnosed illness by 35%, and that long hours at work increase mortality by nearly 20%. These results are sobering, and sadly, not surprising. It is likely that the same research in UK workplaces would yield similar findings.

What is surprising is that policy-makers and individual organisations in the US and the UK don’t do more to protect employees’ health by looking at what stressors employees are experiencing and how these are affecting them. This makes sense not just on a humane level, but also in terms of an organisation’s bottom line.

I believe that in addition to real or perceived job insecurity, high job demands and long work hours, other factors hugely contribute to employee stress. These include: real or perceived unfair treatment, discrimination, bullying, and workplace conflict. In our work as mediators, parties always speak about the enormous stress that workplace conflict causes, resulting in insomnia, severe migraines and backaches, anxiety and depression. In many cases, parties are signed off from work due to work-related stress for weeks, sometimes even months.

Many of our clients are forward-thinking enough to realise that workplace stress will have a detrimental impact on their employees’ emotional and physical health, and have decided to do something about it. They have reported quantifiable successes relating to decreases in workplace conflict, cases going to formal process and litigation. They have achieved this by embedding informal conflict management systems into their organisations, such as offering mediation, conflict management training for their managers, and conflict coaching. Although more needs to be done to combat the hugely negative impact of workplace stress, these informal conflict management services are a positive step in the right direction.

We need to rethink the expectations placed on employees in the workplace and think about how we can create healthier workplaces. Workplace mediation and conflict management services allow employees who are experiencing workplace stress due to conflict to have an informal, confidential and impartial way to deal with some of these stressors. This will increase their levels of health and wellbeing, not just in the short term, but also in the long term.

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