By Behcet Bicakci,(DipLC) Life Coach & Sarah Pashley, (Bsc, Msc) Psychologist, Employment Specialist & Adult Mental Health NHS
The impact and consequence of stress at work is much more than we know. It can damage mental and physical health such as causing anxiety, lack of motivation, ineffectiveness, depression, infertility, headaches, stomach cramps etc.
I have been in employment over 10 years now. There were times that I was working 17 hours a day and neglecting my physical and mental health for a successful career. When I became aware of the danger of working long hours, I decided to cut my working hours to minimum (standard 40 hours) as much as I could. Despite trying to do my standard 40 hours a week, I would sometimes trap myself with the stress of working overtime whether I was required or voluntarily to save more money. Recently one of my lawyer colleagues mentioned that she had been working 80 hours a week for last 2 months and another one between 60 to 80 hours a week last 6 months. Obviously, these working hours do not include travelling time which can be between 1-3 hours commuting to and from work in London. Another female colleague complained about working long hours and because she does not have enough time to socialise and meet someone, she was considering freezing her eggs for future pregnancy. All of them stated they didn’t have time for anything like visiting families, socialising with friends, relaxing enough, going on holidays etc. However, they believe at the end they will be rewarded with more payment so they can do their things later without realising how these extra hours of work can have a huge negative impact on their health and wellbeing.
Stress of commuting to work and stress at work can have a huge impact on our hormones both male and female especially females. This stress, pressure and anxiety at work can cause depression, low mood, anxiety and can lead to more serious mental health issues as well as physical health issues such as infertility, sleep disturbance, etc.
Ms. Candace Burch (MA), ZRT Laboratory states that the cause of infertility can be physical, mental and emotional. “infertility is not just an affliction of women: 30% of all cases are due to female factors, another 30% are linked to male factors, and the remaining 40% can be traced back to both”. (https://hormonelab.co.uk/blogs/blog/clinical-pearls-on-fertility-infertility-hormones?_pos=1&_sid=ea1b5951f&_ss=r )
ZRT Laboratory (associated with Hormone Lab UK) states one of main reason of infertility is stress beside low progesterone, PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), thyroid disorder and low egg reserve. Laboratory states that “Stress affects ovulation because of its impact on the endocrine system. High cortisol can inhibit ovulation, where low cortisol can affect the immune changes necessary for implantation to occur. Stress may also lead to the development of endometriosis, which is found in more than 50% of women with unexplained infertility”. (https://hormonelab.co.uk/collections/fertility-hormones )
The Source of Work-Related Stress
Stress at work can be associated with poor or inadequate employers / managers, inappropriate management styles, lack of communication, excessive workloads, toxic environments, lack of clarity around job role, lack of consultation where changes in the workplace are going to take place, poor salary, lack of training, lack of support from management or HR, this list is not exhaustive. It is important to identify the source and cause of work-related stress which will help to deal with it.
Frustration and Hesitation
Despite there are different alternatives to deal with stress at work, sometimes employees may hesitate to apply for these alternatives. For example most organisations offer an internal support system for their employees should they require assistance in managing their mental health wellbeing in the workplace, this will most likely be the HR Department where an Occupational Health Assessment can be requested by either the employee or the employer if required at times of mental or physical difficulties during employment. This however may not be a suitable approach for all employees, especially if they have no confidence in the confidentiality of their internal HR Department/employer, or they may even have doubts about whether anything will be done at all since it has already gotten this stage in the first place. In this case employees may wish to seek support from an external provider rather than using their internal HR department. Employees can use one of external providers such as the NHS provide free counselling, CBT, Group Therapy or if they can afford to hire a psychologist or life / employment coach to help them to deal with stress at work.
Also there are many reasonable adjustments that can be effective at work, for example employees have right to make application for Flexible Working (eg. Start and finish different hours, working from home etc) after they have been working for the same employer at least 26 weeks. Although employees have legal right to make application for Flexible Working their employer may not accept without giving a good reason or even if they agree with Flexible Working they might warn employees if they apply for Flexible Working, it might affect their future employment / career. Despite Flexible Working can help employees to be more flexible and deal with their stress at work they might hesitate to apply because of above reasons.
Feasible solutions can be training, educating and re-educating employers and management team on;
- Human functionality: employees are not machines and they need to relax, socialise and be with people who have good time with so they can be more effective and productive. Employers and management team should take responsibility for looking after their employees and ensuring annual leave is taken appropriately to ensure employees are accessing their legal entitlement to quality time out of the workplace. Additionally, to ensure well-being in the workplace, regular meetings between employee and employer should take place to identify any issues that may be an indicator of stress in the workplace, it is also advisable to regularly check job description to ensure employees workload is not inappropriately increased from when they first started in employment.
- Understanding impact of stress: it can lead to mental and physical health issues and there are times that some employees are not able to cope and choose to sign themselves off from work, and in extreme instances end their lives. Employers and managers need to be educated and update their knowledge on human behaviours and understand their employees, especially being in touch with them on regular basis and notice if anyone experience stress, depression at work place and talk or refer them to relevant departments at early stage.
- Benefit of stress-free work environment: staff surveys commonly state that senior management are not visible in the workplace therefore it is important that where possible, senior management attempt to integrate into the team and not be viewed as unapproachable. Other ways they can get involved is organising small parties for their staff at the end of the week or month, offer bonuses by creating incentives, provide access to basic beverages and food such as tea, coffee, fruit etc. offering employees discounts to join gyms, recognition for birthdays or major life events, enough time for lunch break etc. Although these sound like small things, they can have a huge impact on employees’ effectiveness and productivity. All these factors can help employees to feel they belong to their company and will reduce stress at work.
- Effective working methods: most employers operate a flexible working policy which allows their employees to work different time, days and work from home if the need should arise, this can be requested by the employee and can be a temporary measure whilst someone is suffering from stress at work. Alternatively working from home may have been agreed at time of interview and written into the employees’ contract. Most organisations are already operating this working pattern (Flexible Working). This evidences a healthy work life balance for the employee. This will affect their productivity as well as effectiveness which is beneficial for both employers and employees.
- Using service of employment or life coaches: using coaches has been an important step for some organisations and they have already started employing coaches or using external coaches for their organisation to increase effectiveness of employees at workplace. Coaches can approach employees in different ways, organising seminars, one to one meetings, suggestions and advice how to eliminate stress at work, increase effectiveness and productivity etc.
We are living in 21st century and businesses are growing, technology is advancing, and new areas of work have been created therefore everything is growing and expanding fast. As a result, employers and managers need to optimize their knowledge, expectations and behaviours to be able to educate and integrate themselves and their employees into this fast-developing world. It is time for employers and management teams to understand the impact and consequence of their management style and its effectiveness. Their management style can have a huge impact on their employees’ future career and life. It is result of their management if their employees end up happy and a great career life or depression, stress which can cause unhappy life as well as cause of infertility which will prevent their employees have a family.