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July 18, 2010

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Research – Employers’ “bunker mentality” could damage worker well-being

Too many British businesses are jeopardising the health of their workforce by focusing solely on profit and productivity in these straitened times. This is the warning from Aviva Health, which recently carried out its annual ‘Health of the Workplace’ study.

In all, 39 per cent of the employers questioned said their prime aim is to foster a highly productive and flexible team, or maximum productivity for headcount – an attitude that Aviva describes as a “bunker mentality”. According to the company, this “task-focused” approach is having an adverse effect on the health of employees – 47 per cent of whom said they feel much tenser at work than in their home life, with 19 per cent believing that their bosses create a stressful environment.€ᄄ€ᄄ

But the news is not all bad: more than a quarter of employers (29 per cent) admitted they could do with improving their employees’ work/life balance, and 27 per cent said their main priority is to create a motivated team that enjoys working together.€ᄄ€ᄄ

The study found that company size plays a key role in business priorities: the smaller the company, the more importance afforded to work/life balance issues. Half of companies with fewer than nine employees cited this as their number-one priority, while just 12 per cent of companies with more than 100 employees agreed.€ᄄ€ᄄ

Encouragingly, overall workplace morale appears to be moving in the right direction – although some well-intentioned morale-boosters, such as team-building events, may not be having the desired effect. More than half (52 per cent) of employees are less than enthusiastic about going out with their wider team, bringing into question the value employers get by funding these events. One in five employees openly admits that they don’t like socialising with their colleagues, and a further 15 per cent feel obliged to show their face, but don’t really enjoy it. €ᄄ€ᄄ

Commenting on the results of the study, Dr. Doug Wright, principal clinical consultant at Aviva UK Health, said: “[W]hile employers are making some very positive moves towards creating a healthy workplace environment, the overwhelming priority is still on financial performance. In the short term, this strategy can sustain a business through a difficult trading period, but it will undermine business performance in the longer term by damaging staff morale and allowing conditions like stress to flourish. €ᄄ€ᄄ

“It’s particularly worrying that employers currently see themselves as role models despite admitting to suffering punishing levels of stress themselves – especially considering a manager’s behaviour has an inevitable knock-on effect on their staff. And, while it’s good to see employers opting for social events, they would be wise to consider if they might be better off investing in wellness initiatives that support the mental and physical well-being of their team, as well as building team spirit.”

Dr Wright concluded: “Businesses need to balance their financial priorities with efforts to improve the health, well-being and morale of the workforce.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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