Workplace stress no. 1 issue for employees

Almost three quarters of employees in Irish businesses believe that pressure in the workplace has increased to the point where it has become the norm, according to the Aviva Workplace Health Index published in September 2013. The survey reveals that employees and employers have very different perceptions of their workplaces: while 74% of employees said stress at work had increased, only 33% of employers agreed. Optimistic feelings about the future were reported by just 15% of employees compared to 37% of employers.

About the study

The Aviva Workplace Health Index is a wide-ranging study of employee health and well-being among Ireland’s workforce. The insurance company’s report (437KB PDF) was published in September 2013 and provides a commentary on some of the main issues in Irish workplaces.

The research was carried out on behalf of Aviva by Ireland’s largest independent market research company Behaviour and Attitudes in April 2013, based on interviews with 350 business managers or owners and 463 employees based in Ireland. Both sample sizes are nationally representative.

Main findings

The survey showed that employers and employees had widely differing views of their work and workplaces. While 64% of employers felt positive about their workplace, 53% of employees said they felt negative about theirs. The employers were more positive about the future, with 37% saying they were hopeful things would improve, compared to just 15% of employees.

Almost three-quarters (74%) of employees said the workplace had become increasingly stressful and 72% said they felt a pressurised environment had now become the norm. Among employers, 44% said they felt quite stressed and 33% said their workplace stress had increased.

Longer working hours

Researchers were told by 70% of all employers that they needed employees to work harder than ever before. Analysed by company size, this figure increased to 85% for employers at smaller SMEs. Almost two-thirds of employees surveyed said they worked longer hours than they were paid for at least once a week. Almost half (49%) reported that they regularly worked late twice a week or more.

More than half of all employees said they regularly worked through their lunch break. Almost half of employees (44%) said they had been contacted by their bosses while on holiday or on sick leave.

Health issues

Data included in the report show that the top health problem in Irish workplaces is stress and anxiety (55%), followed by fatigue (52%), back and neck pain (32%) and colds (32%).

‘Presenteeism’ was identified by employers as a key emerging health issue in the workplace, meaning that employees and managers go to work while unwell, even though they feel they are not functioning properly. Presenteeism has become a key management challenge for more than a third of Irish organisations, the research found.

The majority of employers (80%) feel they have a duty of care to keep staff healthy and productive. However, many (73%) said their organisation lacked the resources to run sufficient health and wellness projects to look after the intellectual capital that their employees represent.

Workplace well-being comparison

The report illustrates the differences between employer and employee opinions of workplace well-being issues. The table below compares what employers provide for their workers with what employees would like.

How health needs are being met by employers
Employers (support provided) % % Employees (support desired)

Encouragement to maintain a good work-life balance

70

63

Encouragement to have a good work-life balance

Offer of flexible working hours

70

54

Offer of flexible working hours

Offer of benefits such as private medical insurance

16

57

Offer of benefits such as private health insurance

Offer of regular health vaccines/ screenings such as flu vaccine, diabetes test

10

41

Offer regular health vaccines/ screenings

Offer of gym membership discounts

6

36

Offer of gym membership discounts

Cycle to work schemes

28

20

Cycle to work schemes

Counselling services

15

19

Counselling services

Encourage team sports/activities

34

42

Introduce more ‘fun’ initiatives

N/A

 

46

Provide healthy food/drinks

in work

N/A

 

24

Regular information sessions about health and wellness

Source: Aviva Workplace Health Index, 2013

Commentary

At the launch of the research, Professor Ciaran O’Boyle, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Institute of Leadership at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, commented on the findings.

He said:

This research gives us an insight into wellness economics and the reality of working life today. Apart from the challenge of really tough trading conditions, the lines between work and time off have become blurred by technology. The challenge for business organisations in this ‘always-on’ environment is to be aware of the pressure it puts on their workforce and ultimately on their business performance.

Clearly, the management challenge is to increase productivity without compromising the well-being of the workforce. Chronic stress impairs both physical and mental health and is an increasing phenomenon in today’s fast-paced organisations. The leadership challenge is to foster resilience in the workforce in order to create organisations that can respond to the challenge without diminishing the well-being of employees.

Roisin Farrelly, IRN Publishing

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