Employees suffering from high stress levels have lower engagement, are less productive and have higher absenteeism levels than those not working under excessive pressure, according to research from professional services firm Towers Watson.

The Global Benefits Attitudes survey found that levels of workplace disengagement significantly increase when employees experience high levels of stress. The study of 22,347 employees across 12 countries including the UK and US, revealed that over half of those employees claiming to be experiencing high stress levels reported they were disengaged. By contrast, only one in ten employees claiming low stress levels reported they were disengaged and half of this group claimed to be highly engaged. The proportion of employees claiming high levels of workplace stress was 30% in the US, slightly lower than the 34% in the UK.

The research clearly showed the destructive link between high levels of stress and reduced productivity, remarked Rebekah Haymes, senior consultant and wellbeing specialist at Towers Watson. ‘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.’

The causes of high stress levels were also explored in the research. More than half of employees cited inadequate staffing as the biggest cause of stress in the workplace. Globally, few employers considered this to be a major problem with only 15% of senior managers acknowledging this as a cause of stress in their organization. However in the US, employers agreed that inadequate staffing was the second largest cause of workplace stress after ‘lack of work-life balance’. ‘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 organization,’ commented Haymes. ‘Without this, even the most well-meaning management team can find itself focusing energy and resource on the wrong areas.’

A third 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% citing it as contributing to workplace pressure.

Absence levels were also influenced by stress with highly stressed employees taking an average of 4.6 sick days per year compared to 2.6 days for employees reporting low stress levels. ‘Presenteeism’-the phrase used to describe attending work when unwell and unproductive was 50% higher for highly stressed employees with an average of 16 day per year versus around 10 days for employees claiming low stress levels.

By Karen Higginbottom, as published in Forbes on 11th September 2014

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