Today, mental health is one of the biggest HR issues faced by UK employers, and it's by no means going away – according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)'s latest Labour Force Survey, 49% of all working days lost in 2016-2017 were reported as being due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
Stress isn't always bad. A little bit of stress can help you stay focused, energetic, and able to meet new challenges in the workplace. But with stress turning into a significant contributor to poor mental health, low productivity and absenteeism for the UK workforce, we seriously need to start considering what can we do to change this.
We're clearly doing something wrong.
That's why at Perkbox we've recently undertaken asurvey to over 3,000 British workers aged 18+ to assess the situation further, provide a snapshot of UK's most stressed hotspots and a call to action to all UK employers facing these challenges.
Here is what we've gathered.
The bigger picture: why are millennials leaving us?
Whereas lack of engagement is commonly seen as leading to employee turnover due to boredom and disaffection, companies are in fact at risk of losing some of their most motivated and hard-working employees due to high stress and burnout - for those British adults in employment, work is by far the most common cause of stress (59%).
Only 9% of the employees say that they have 'never' experienced work related stress before, while only 12% rate the level to which they experience stress as low.
Moreover, and perhaps most concerning, as many as one in five (21%), experience stress several times a week and a further one in 10 (12%) feel it at least once a week.
Whilst millennials are often accused of being 'professional job hoppers', jumping at every good opportunity offered to them, there might be more to it than just that - have we ever stopped to think how much of an impact the stressful environment you subject them to everyday can have on their decisions to move?
What are the warning signs?
Naturally, no two individuals or workplaces are the same, but we've found some clear parallels in the reasons respondents cite their work stress levels are this high in our report.
Long working hours (21%) and intense demands (14%) are the primary culprit, however many employees also report difficult bosses (8%) and work-related office politics (9%) as a reason for this.
What's more, over one in 10 (13%) feel that their own performance at work is what causes them most stress – suggesting many experience stress in the workplace that is fuelled by insecurity, lack of confidence or event perfectionism.
This is particularly worrying.
Lack of self-confidence is not necessarily related to lack of ability. Instead it's often the result of focusing too much on the unrealistic expectations or standards of others. The fact that over one in 10 feel this way suggests to me that management has a lot to work on still – avoiding micromanagement, enhancing more autonomy and delivering that true sense of purpose are just a few key elements that come to mind to resolve this.
Who is the most stressed out in the UK?
Men aged between 25 and 34 living in Cardiff and working in finance (70%). This is closely followed by Wolverhampton (64%) and the UK's business capital London (59%).
I'm not going to lie, I found this quite surprising myself when I first saw the results. After some research I realised however, that85%of Cardiff's recent job growth has arisen from an increase in net commuting into the city from neighbouring communities. This might explain the significantly high levels of stress in the city.
Long commutes affect employees' productivity and have a negative impact on mental wellbeing. The 'time scarcity' they create can bring about an unhealthy behaviour across employees as they try juggling multiple commitments at once.
What's more, we all know that bad management is often cited as a reason for employees becoming stressed or worse still, quitting a job. Well,88.5% of workers in the Welsh capital have reported to have experienced bad leadership at work recently, according to a research by CV-Library. The most prevalent location in the UK.
Stress game: the role of motivation
This brings me nicely onto my next point - motivation and the role management should play to get it right.
There are several psychological theories about the best ways to motivate people, yet the majority fall back on the tried and tested combination of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Whilst KPIs help define and measure performance and progress as a means of ensuring goals are met, they act by the promise of a particular reward – i.e. they fall into the category of extrinsic motivators.
As important as these are, employers should be looking to combine them with other intrinsic rewards – 'those that come from simply enjoying an activity or seeing it as an opportunity to explore, learn and actualise our potentials' - without any obvious external incentive.
Let's be honest - everyone wants to love what they do, be great at it and earn the big praises and promotions.
Surely then it isn't necessary to put additional pressure into what is already a high pressure environment. This just makes employees feel unnecessarily stressed, adversely affecting their lives professionally and personally.
Finding the right balance is hard. It should start by having a clear mission, vision and values, and the support of good management to tie all these pieces together and put them into practice.
For example, at Perkbox we encourage autonomy, trying new things. We do this through one of our core values - the 'zero fear' approach. It's a mantra both Saurav (also co-founder) and I have adopted because we want to see our people –as well as our company- succeed.
However, having a value like this is not enough in itself. We need to tie this back into everything else we do. We need to educate managers so that they help nurture these values – e.g. they don't micromanage their teams, they provide them with the right resources to try and test their new initiatives - so that employees can properly flourish and feel intrinsically fulfilled.
As Daniel Pink once said – bonuses, pay rises and other financial rewards are only going to get you so far when it comes to generating consistent motivation. Identifying effective intrinsic motivations that work for your team and focusing on them to propel your business is key to greater business success –they will help you move out of that stress-induced spiral that often (accidentally) emerges in an organisation.
We are all guilty of it.
So let's start focusing more on our people. You'll be surprised to see how much business results will just follow...
Chieu Cao is Co-founder and CMO at Perkbox.