Stress is one of those strange things that a lot of us accept as a necessary evil in the modern workplace, even though it is a counter-productive and bad for business.
Whether in a profit-making enterprise, where money needs to be made in as little time as possible, or in public services where tasks need to be completed by spending as little money as possible, stress on employees is often a by-product of the business.
And yet stress is very bad for productivity, with many millions of days sickness absence lost to stress, and even more money lost to 'presenteeism', where workers show up ill and under-perform because they are too stressed out to do their jobs properly. So how does your workplace fare when it comes to the stress test?
Workplace stress tends to be caused by one of three main categories of pressure: Overwhelm, Uncertainty and Friction
I call these elements the OUF! factors, because who doesn't like a good acronym, and let's face it, overwhelming stress is about as pleasant as being punched in the gut.
Overwhelm can be caused by employees being given too much work, or being asked to do too many things. Sometimes it can be a matter of being given work to do without adequate training, tools, time or resources.
Uncertainty can be the result of restructuring, poor communication or redundancies. There often seems to be nothing as stressful as uncertainty, because it has that added burden of feeling powerless over the situation.
Friction tends to occur either between colleagues, or between agendas. So, for example, a manager may need employees to do overtime, assuming they'll be glad of the money, not realising that their workers' priorities might be spending more time with their family, with finances second. Sometimes people just have different ways of seeing things or doing things, and these preferences can result in tension between colleagues.
Almost all workplace stress tends to fall into one of these three categories, and if your firm is ticking all the boxes, that's a bad sign that you operate a very stressed out workplace. The good news is that all workers can learn to control their stress responses - they just need to be taught how.
My belief is that stress is not caused by external events - it is caused by our internal response to external events. By teaching employees skills to manage their own responses, your workplace can become stress-free too; no matter how busy your business.