Perspective: Ignore Stress at Your Peril; Chief Feature Writer Paul Groves Looks at a New Report Which Suggests Managers Are Failing to Appreciate the Effects of Stress on Productivity, Working Relations and, Most Importantly, the Health of Staff

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Byline: Paul Groves

A s you settle in to your desk at work this morning what is the first thing you do? Do you head straight to the coffee machine for a much-needed caffeine fix?

By mid-morning, having eased your way into the working day, are you slamming your phone down with irritation after fielding another call, or are you kicking the photocopier for being out of toner yet again?

Or it might be something that raises a smile. Like the person trying to do half a dozen things at once who picks up the can of drink when he hears the phone ring and asks: 'Can I help?' of his favourite fizzy beverage.

As it is now Tuesday, such feelings and behaviour cannot be put down to Monday Morning Blues. Yet it appears most managers are happy to ignore these classic warning signs.

Employers have been warned that such ill-feelings and evidence of overwork are growing more commonplace and are classic symptoms of stress, rather than a start-of-the-week malaise.

Senior managers are failing to appreciate the impact that workplace stress has on their staff, according to a new report, with the majority unwilling to accept that productivity is affected by stress.

Yet the survey discovered that one in five workers believe that stress is the single biggest barrier affecting their output.

Investors in People, a workplace development group, said its researchshowed that managers' lack of awareness could have 'serious implications' in many firms.

Mental ill-health among the workforce exerts a substantial cost from British industry. Stress-related sickness absences cost an estimated pounds 4 billion annually.

Lost employment constitutes 37 per cent of the total cost of mental ill-health in England (pounds 11.8 billion). The CBI estimates that 30 times as many days are lost from mental ill-health as from industrial disputes.

There are many other costs in addition to those of sickness absence. Ineffective working and poor interpersonal relations can substantially reduce productivity. Increased staff turnover necessitates recruitment costs.

Administrative as well as personal costs are involved in covering for absent employees. Additional costs are incurred when staff take early retirement or medical severance on health grounds.

Dr Penny Gray, of the Mental Health Foundation, said: 'Stress is a necessary part of everyday life. Some degree of stress or pressure is considered healthy.

'Under-employment can lead to boredom, apathy and a loss of energy and motivation. But conversely, excessive stress can lead to fatigue, impaired judgment and decisionmaking, exhaustion and the onset of serious health problems - both mental and physical.

'Physically, stress is implicated in thedevelopment of coronary heart disease, certain types of cancer and a host of other ailments including stomach ulcers, skin rashes, migraine, asthma and increased susceptibility to infections.

'The psychological effects of stress can be just as damaging. Increased anxiety, irritability, disturbed sleep, poor concentration and aggressive behaviour can increase the risk of accidents and disrupt relationships both at work and at home.

'Individuals under stress are often inclined to smoke more, drink more alcohol and consume excessive amounts of caffeine, thus increasing irritability, sleep impairment, in a vicious circle. Exposure to prolonged stress will increase the risk of serious mental health problems, including depression and disabling anxiety conditions, as well as alcohol misuse.

'Anyone can experience stress from their work, depending on the demands of their job, the conditions in which they work, and their individual susceptibility, which can be increased by problems outside of the workplace.'

Dr Gray urged employers to be more aware of the warning signs that either individuals themselves or working teams are suffering the effects of stress. …