1 Aug 2017

Workplace stress rising sharply - report

5:57 am on 1 August 2017

Workers are more stressed and half of them are turning up to work even when they are unwell, according to a just released workplace health survey.

no caption

Photo: 123RF

The third Wellness in the Workplace report, which covers nearly 5 percent of all employees, shows workload, pressure to meet work targets and long hours are all making people more stressed at work.

The survey, sponsored by Southern Cross Health and Business New Zealand, found almost half of workers are likely to turn up to their jobs when unwell.

Overall stress or anxiety levels rose in the 2016 survey compared to two years earlier - with a net 23 percent of firms noting an increase, compared with 14 percent in 2014.

Business New Zealand chief executive Kirk Hope said stress was a problem for employers.

"[Staff] may be less productive, it might affect their mood, it may affect their relationships with their co-workers. It can really undermine the relationships within a workplace.

"Also, frankly, you want people to be happy at work," he said.

Many workplaces were trying to do their part by making sure managers had the right skills and attitudes to look after staff, and manage work levels, said Mr Hope.

Switching off

Organisational psychologist John Eatwell said the inability to leave work behind was a growing problem.

"We've traditionally worked long hours, but now a lot of people have smart devices which gives them access to emails after hours.

"Although that's positive in terms of flexibility, it's also negative in terms of people feeling as though they can work all the time," he said.

And when people do not switch off, or take breaks, they slow down.

"Our brain is actually a muscle and 20 percent of the energy our body produces is used by our brain.

"If we're not giving ourselves breaks to switch off, then in fact we're going to be fatigued and less effective," he said.

The survey also showed 46 percent still turned up to work, despite being unwell.

'No one will do the work when they're not there' - CTU

The Council of Trade Unions' president Richard Wagstaff said both stress and turning up to work sick were a result of the pressure of the modern workplace, such as performance targets, higher workloads, and under-staffing.

"For many people, no one will do the work when they're not there. So they'll just keep coming to work because of the pressure that they're under at work to get things done.

"It may reflect, too, that many people don't have adequate sick leave provisions in their agreement, or they're casual workers and they can't afford to lose a day's pay, so they need to turn up at work to pay the bills," he said.

Mr Wagstaff said employees - no matter how precarious their job - needed to be able to let their bosses know how they were doing, and to be able to take sick leave without fear.

But perhaps it does not need to be this way.

Mr Eatwell said New Zealanders worked longer than most at around 43 hours a week, yet the research shows the sweet spot for productivity is just 36 hours.