Stress – It’s not all about absenteeism!

As we put the finishing touches to the presentations for our inaugural senior HR leader stress debate, in London on 1st February, my view has strengthened that the impact of stress on people and business could be reported differently by industry commentators and the media, to achieve increased senior stakeholder engagement.

People and the press jump to absenteeism and its costs when stress is highlighted. Not surprising because it’s a major and measurable factor, however, absenteeism is just one component of the performance category, itself one of three categories (performance, risk and culture) which workforce stress can have a major impact on. These three then collectively roll up into people and business productivity.

Absenteeism is accompanied by presenteeism, which has different meanings to different people and may suggest why it sometimes gets overlooked. Also reduced creativity and innovation must be included, considered and calculated at this stage.

Voluntary turnover sits in business performance because losing, and the inability to attract, optimal people naturally impacts on delivering the business strategy. Given everyone is a publisher these days, factor in the impact on attracting best people if candidate communities are awash with reports of excessive stress in an organisation.

The outcomes of the above are obvious. But also consider the knock on effect to those surrounding those that are impacted on by stress, especially close teammates who will need to absorb localised issues with colleague performance, and management whose attention will be localised much more frequently, instead of managing and leading everything under their control.

Next up is risk! Risk is something all leaders manage but it doesn’t seem to get equal weighting in discussion compared to people and business performance, especially in the HR press. You will, however, find much more reference to the impact of stress on people and business risk amongst the Health and Safety community.

The risk of not hitting the numbers must weigh heavy on leadership. Legislative risk, associated with employee tribunals and industrial and public incidents is a very real risk, with businesses spending considerable amounts on issues and situations that could easily be avoided. Impaired judgement, accidents, injuries, illnesses, burn out and brand impact are all risks that stress can play a demonstrable part in, all of which influence successful business strategy delivery.

Finally, there’s culture! Culture in my opinion is the emotion of the organisation. Bullying and harassment and uncompassionate cultures create stress and have been widely reported recently in the mainstream press surrounding the media and political environments. Stress can also lead to incidences of bullying and harassment and a lack of compassion occurring, and in many cases it’s not deliberate. It can simply be a consequence of adverse pressure being applied on people, e.g. stress!

We hear of many change and transformation failings. These failings can be a product of poor governance, leadership and engagement and cause stress amongst receiving audiences. Equally, stress can contribute to the original failings, again due to adverse pressure existing.

Unacceptable and criminal misconduct, and conscious default need to be mentioned in order to be thorough, however, these are complex situations where stress, and many other elements, can be a contributory factor.

So, for me, and hopefully you and the wider world, stress isn’t just about absenteeism. I once learned from a most amazing D&I colleague that diversity isn’t a gender agenda. I won’t embarrass myself by trying to come up with a similar strapline for stress, but must confess, the words chess and mess popped into my mind as I wrote this sentence purely because they rhymed! I have accepted I wasn’t destined to be a poet!

All the very best. You know where I am if you want to discuss stress, psychoanalytical workforce stress diagnosis and mental health strategy development.