The dynamic nature of the modern workplace means that individuals, and the organisations they work for, are more exposed than ever to the challenges of work-related stress. But, while most of us understand the effects of stress on individual wellbeing, its effect at an organisational level is less understood.
In fact, we’re just beginning to fully understand the economic impacts 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 Allan Fels, said “poor resilience is more significant for our economy than tax and micro-economic reforms.”
With this in mind, 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 of workplace stress?
WHAT IS RESILIENCE?
Resilience is the ability to cope with life’s ups and downs, and to bounce back from challenges, setbacks and trauma. Different people have varying levels of resilience, but the amount we have often depends on how much stress we’re exposed to and our own unique coping resources.
People with higher levels of resilience tend to recover more quickly from stressful situations, using learned coping skills to mitigate their stress-exposure. At an organisational level, this translates to higher productivity and morale.
Conversely, organisations where workers possess lower levels of resilience are more likely to experience:
- reduced productivity and efficiency
- lower job satisfaction, morale and cohesion
- worker burnout
- increased absenteeism
- lower client satisfaction
- increased health care expenditure and workers’ compensation claims.
THE COST OF WORKPLACE STRESS
In 2013, Safe Work Australia released a comprehensive report1 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, with the majority occurring as a result of ‘work pressure’.
Additionally, 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. This is not to mention the costs of staff turnover which according to PwC, is estimated to be $3.8 billion in lost productivity annually.
BUILDING A RESILIENT CULTURE
The economic impact of poor resilience and high levels of work-related mental stress claims means there’s a strong business case for enhancing workplace resilience.
Assoc Professor Sam Harvey, a psychiatrist at Black Dog Institute, has studied the impact of building resilience and states, “enhancing resilience removes the notion that employees are passive recipients of workplace stress without anything they can do about it”. This serves as a positive reminder that resilience is a dynamic skill that can be developed over time.
By arming employees with the right psychological skills, strategies and resources, they are better equipped to tackle the challenging situations they encounter and take them in their stride. When coupled with reducing workplace stress, 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.
Resilience training for staff and leaders, flexible work arrangements, reasonable workload expectations, comfortable workspaces and resources to encourage employees to look after their own wellbeing are great places to start to reduce stress and get the ball rolling towards a more resilient workplace.
- The incidence of ace[ted workers’ compensation claims for mental stress in Australia