Complex Made Simple

How stress from home affects the workplace – and how employers can help

By Simon Stirzaker, Regional Leader, Health & Benefits, Al Futtaim Willis.

Work-related stress can have a major effect on employees’ mental health, which can, in turn, impact your business. But stress doesn’t only come from work; it can be caused by conditions at home as well and the impact it has on an employee’s performance at work can be every bit as destructive.

While employers wise up to the need to tackle work-related stress and implement solutions, such as wellness programmes, designed to identify and alleviate the stress at work, tackling stress caused at home is a tougher challenge. Home-related stress is often difficult to identify, as the common causes are things that employees would rather keep to themselves: a broken relationship, sickness, grief or financial worries.

A report by the British Psychology Society listed death of loved ones, imprisonment, home damage and illness as the top four causes of stress. In fact, of the top 10, only two were work-related: ‘starting a new job’ and ‘being fired’. Relationship problems, identify theft, money problems and planning a wedding are all likely causes of stress for your employees.

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Why home-related stress matters at work

So it’s clear then that if we just focus on work-related stress, we’re tackling only a fraction of the problem. And the problem is serious, for the following reasons.

Lower productivity: The Willis Towers Watson 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes study reveals that two thirds of workers with financial worries feel that their concerns keep them from doing a good job at work. Stressors like money and health are affecting an alarming number of people. The research found that 36% of employees in the UAE live from pay check to pay check and of those struggling to make ends meet, 58% felt they were under high stress. The impact of these stressors on productivity is huge.

What you can do – Be flexible and have a policy in place that deals directly with personal problems and make sure staff are aware of it. Worries about how their home-related problems will be perceived at work are no doubt a cause of added stress for employees, so remove such worries by having a policy that dispels any stigma attached to common home-related stressors and communicate the policy to all staff.

Poor accuracy and decision making: It’s not just the quantity of work your employees get through that is hampered by stress, the quality of their work suffers too. One study from 2012, published at the 4th International Conference of Cognitive Science, looked specifically at human accuracy when placed under stress. Thirty people were exposed to stress while completing a computer-based task, while 26 age-matched controls were not. Researchers found that when put under stress, the accuracy of people’s intuitive judgement dropped by 40%, and their analytical judgement fell 22%.

What you can do – Have mental health covered on the insurance policy. For an employee suffering from stress, access to medical help may be required but the cost of doing so could be adding to their stress. Taking this pressure off could make a big difference to their clarity of thought.

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More frequent sick days: Being stressed due to health problems or financial concerns can raise the rates of sick leave by 144%, according to the 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey. A study of nearly three million workers in the Netherlands discovered that the average rate of absenteeism among employees under the stress of divorce was between 8.4% and 9.1%, nearly double the average of all employees of 5%.

Once replacement workers and overtime have been taken into account, the total cost of absenteeism has been estimated at around 15% of the total payroll.

What you can do – Make use of a wellness programme to offer resilience training, physical activity sessions, mental health education and well-being checks, all of which can help employees deal with ongoing stress and improve their overall health and fitness.

Decreased creativity: The link between stress and creativity is an interesting one. Many people say they thrive under a little bit of pressure and find it useful for pushing their creative boundaries. Research would seem to agree that a little stress does go a long way in this regard. But major home-related stresses like relationship problems, bereavement, money issues and illness are more likely to stifle creativity than stimulate it.

What you can do – Offer free, private counselling sessions to employees, during which they can discuss their private worries without fear of being judged. By giving employees access to a confidante, they will be more inclined to divulge their issues, and then you’ll be able to offer measures to help.

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Lower team morale: The effect of personal stress doesn’t stop at the individual; it can spill over to damage team morale too. Low team morale can then lead to higher stress. It’s all cyclical. We simply can’t ‘turn off’ when we or someone else suffering. And our preoccupation with their stress then causes our own productivity to fall.

What you can do – Provide training to managers on how to approach and deal with stressed employees. By empowering your managers to grasp thorny issues and speak confidently to their team in an appropriate way, you can nip the contagious effects of stress in the bud.

Take responsibility for your employees’ mental health

Home-related stress can have various detrimental effects on employees, which eventually filter all the way through to the bottom line. So it’s incumbent upon employers to put measures in place that can pick up on home-related stress affecting members of staff and deliver constructive methods to help alleviate the causes. Ultimately stress is stress, regardless of where it comes from and who’s responsible, and employers need to see their staff’s mental wellbeing as their responsibility.

Failure to do so means the stress will soon spread to the very top.

By Simon Stirzaker, Regional Leader, Health & Benefits