The cost of workplace stress


May 17, 2016

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Stress at work is more than just a fact of life, it’s increasingly becoming an economic issue.

The dynamic nature of the modern workplace means that individuals, and the organisations they work for, are more vulnerable than ever to the challenges of work-related stress. But, while most of us understand the effects of stress on the wellbeing of an individual, its effect at an organisational level is less well understood.

In fact, we’re just beginning to fully understand the economic impact of workplace stress – and how building resilience can improve the bottom line.

In addressing this issue in 2015, former chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Professor Alan Fels, said “poor resilience is more significant for our economy than tax and micro-economic reforms.”

As such, it’s essential that organisations learn how to develop and build resilience in their workplaces. But what is resilience, and why are some people more resilient than others? And how can organisations most effectively harness resilience to overcome the effects workplace stress?

WHAT IS RESILIENCE?

Resilience is the ability to handle adversity and to bounce back from challenges, setbacks and trauma. Different people have different levels of resilience. But the amount we have often depends on how much stress we’re exposed to, as well as our own coping resources.

People with higher levels of resilience tend to recover more quickly from stressful situations, using coping resources to mitigate their stress-exposure. At an organisational level, this translates to higher productivity and morale.

On the flipside, organisations with low levels of resilience are more likely to experience:

  • reduced productivity and efficiency
  • lower job satisfaction, morale and cohesion
  • increased absenteeism and sickness
  • lower client satisfaction
  • increased health care expenditure and Workers’ Compensation Claims.

THE COST OF WORKPLACE STRESS

In 2013, Safe Work Australia released a comprehensive report detailing the incidence and impact of work-related mental stress claims in Australia.

The report found that, due to the long periods of absence from work, mental stress claims are the most expensive type of workers’ compensation claim.

Absenteeism costs Australia around 92 million working days each year, with the average daily cost rising from $308 in 2013 to $340 in 2014. The direct cost to employers was found to be around $10.11 billion per year. And this figure is likely to be conservative, given that it doesn’t include the indirect costs of re-staffing and re-training due to high turnover of staff.

BUILDING A RESILIENT CULTURE

The economic impact of poor resilience and high levels of work-related mental stress claims means there’s a strong case for addressing workplace resilience.

Dr Sam Harvey of the Black Dog Institute is the Head of the Workplace Mental Health Research Group and has studied the impact of building resilience. He states, “Enhancing resilience removes the notion that employees are passive recipients of workplace stress without anything they can do about it.”

By reducing the levels of workplace stress, and increasing access to coping resources, organisations have the potential to improve performance and cohesion across all sectors. Employees will experience higher levels of engagement, better health, and improved morale, translating to decreased levels of absenteeism and internal staff turnover. This in turn will enable higher levels of profitability, innovation, productivity and customer loyalty.