Workplace stress leads to less productive employees

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Excessive pressure leads to low engagement and high absenteeism

LONDON, 3 September 2014 – Employees suffering from high stress levels have lower engagement, are less productive and have higher absentee levels than those not operating under excessive pressure, according to research from professional services firm Towers Watson.

According to Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitudes survey*, levels of workplace disengagement significantly increase when employees experience high levels of stress. The research shows that of those employees who claimed to be experiencing high stress levels, over half (57%) also reported that they were disengaged. In contrast, only one in ten (10%) employees claiming low stress levels said they were disengaged and half of this group claimed to be highly engaged.

Rebekah Haymes, senior consultant and wellbeing specialist at Towers Watson said: “The research clearly shows the destructive link between high levels of stress and reduced productivity. A third of respondents said they are often bothered by excessive pressure in their job and this can lead to higher instances of disengagement and absenteeism – clear indicators of low productivity in the workplace.”

According to the research, absence levels are also influenced by stress with highly stressed employees taking an average of 4.6 sick days per year compared to 2.6 days for low stress employees. ‘Presenteeism’ – the act of attending work when unwell and unproductive – was 50% higher for highly stressed employees with an average of 16 days per year versus around 10 days for employees claiming to have low stress.

Rebekah Haymes said: “Wellness is about promoting changes in behaviour and encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Companies could take more responsibility for educating employees about the benefits of better sleep, physical activity, good nutrition and a work life balance in order to keep employees healthy, happy and productive. Some companies are making great progress in this area and are already starting to see the business benefits of having a healthy workforce.”

The reasons for high stress levels were also explored in the research. Inadequate staffing was the biggest cause cited by employees with over half (53%) naming it as a top cause of workplace stress. However, few employers consider this to be a major problem, with only 15% of senior managers acknowledging it as a cause of stress in their organisation. Conversely, a third (34%) of employers thought technology that made employees available outside working hours was one of the top causes of stress but employees largely disagreed, with only 8% listing it as a contributor to workplace pressure.

“Rebekah Haymes said: “If business leaders want to promote a lower stress environment in their workplace it’s vital that they understand the real causes of stress in their organisation. These can be specific areas that are not immediately visible to management if good communication and feedback structures are not in place throughout the organisation. Without this, even the most well-meaning management team can find itself focusing energy and resource on the wrong areas.”

Notes to editors

*The Global Benefits Attitudes Survey surveyed 22,347 employees across 12 countries (2,030 in UK). All respondents are employed at large non-government establishments and represent all job levels and major industry sectors. The data is based on employees enrolled in a retirement plan.

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