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June 11, 2008

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Small firms better placed to tackle stress, study says

Larger companies and public-sector organisations are failing to tackle stress in the workplace, according to new research.

According to the research – carried out by Employee benefits magazine and health-plan provider HSA – 47 per cent of UK businesses believe that stress is a key cause of sickness absence. However, when it comes to larger firms (employing more than 10,000 employees) this figure rises to 64 per cent. Among public-sector organisations, levels can be as as high as 86 per cent.

Of perhaps greater concern is the finding that 63 per cent of all firms do not have a strategy in place to reduce stress in the workplace. In 2007, the HSE reported that more than 13 million days were lost each year as a result of work-related stress, costing the UK economy £3.7bn a year.

Reacting to the research findings, the Forum of Private Business FPB said that smaller businesses were in a better position to tackle the problem on account of the closer relationships between owners, managers and other key members of staff than are seen in larger companies.

The FPB’s senior member services representative, Philip Moody, said: “An increasing number of calls received by the FPB’s member helpline relate to problems of staff absence due to stress. For many entrepreneurs, it is frustrating because there are often no physically identifiable symptoms.

“Losing key members of staff is felt more acutely by the owners of small businesses, and in turn, this causes them to suffer from stress. It is important to ensure that stress-related health issues are dealt with correctly.”

Glenn Rhodes, of HSA, accused large companies of neglecting their responsibilities and failing to protect the health of staff: “Stress is an increasingly important issue for organisations. Despite this, many seem to be burying their heads in the sand over the problem. This is especially prevalent within larger organisations, which suffer more sickness absence from stress – yet almost half have no strategy in place to tackle it.”

The FPB’s top 10 tips for reducing stress in the workplace are:

1 Encourage your organisation to develop a thorough company stress policy.

2 Research highlights the positive benefits of using support networks at work to share problems.

3 Don’t procrastinate. Stay focused on the task and avoid time-wasting distractions, such as tidying up your desk or deleting unwanted e-mails.

4 Set priorities and deal with problems accordingly.

5 Delegating work is good if you are a manager, but don’t delegate your problems. Tackle them head on.

6 Rehearse in your mind’s eye how to deal with future difficult events, such as board meetings and presentations.

7 Attempt to keep events or difficulties in perspective. Problems are seldom really the end of the world.

8 If you have too much work, ensure you have informed your supervisor or manager.

9 Take your lunch break. Get away from your computer or office. Go for a walk or visit an art gallery. This will allow you to start the afternoon feeling refreshed.

10 Last, but not least, working late occasionally to reach a deadline maybe acceptable. However, do not let this become a regular habit. Get a life!

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