Are people managers as stressed as their people?

Are people managers as stressed as their people?

People managers are people too. For managers responsible for education, training and capability development, workplace stress is not just a learning topic that needs to be addressed in their organisations, it’s something that can also affect them personally.

At a breakfast seminar attended by senior managers from some of Australia’s leading corporations and government organisations, we ran an anonymous, interactive survey to see how our audience’s experience stacked up against scientific research on workplace stress.


 “Exposure to workplace stressors affects 25% of working women and 18% of working men” -- VicHealth


When we asked how stressed people felt at the start of their working day, more than half of our audience said they felt “somewhat” or “very” stressed. That’s about twice the rate reported by a 2012 VicHealth evidence review of workplace stress!

Half the audience also said they’d taken days off in the previous year because of stress. That lines up with the statistics for Australian workplaces. A study by Medibank Private found that Australian workers took an average of 3.2 days a year off because of stress. The cost is enormous -- it accounts for as much as 40% of employee turnover and 60% of absenteeism.


In the right amount, stress can be good for us

It’s not all bad. Stress can be helpful in the modern workplace. Psychologists point out that “healthy” stress keeps us focused and motivates us to achieve our goals. In our high-performance culture, that can make us more successful. The downside is that without giving people the skills to cope with stress, it comes at a price. Harvard researchers found that 75 to 90% of visits to the doctor are caused by stress.


 “We’re currently more stressed than ever, and too much stress can become harmful.” – Dr Michael Player


At an organisational level, one alarming statistic that might be contributing to the stress felt by people managers, is that stress-related workers’ compensation claims have doubled in recent years!


Managing stress has immediate payoffs

The keynote speaker at our breakfast seminar was Dr Michael Player, an expert in neuroplasticity and Head of Research at Medibio Ltd. As a clinical psychologist and mental health researcher, he’s studied the effects of stress and has co-authored learning programs that help organisations promote mental health and wellbeing for their employees.

“Providing employees with effective, evidence-based skills and practices for managing stress has immediate benefits for their work – they’re less tired, more focused and can manage higher workloads with less stress,” said Dr Player.


 “In workplaces that employees consider mentally healthy, absenteeism almost halves.” – 2014 Industry Report


A wide-ranging industry report into the State of Workplace Health, conducted in 2014 by TNS Global and beyondblue, supports Dr Player’s observations. It found that when mental health is valued by leaders, and appropriate resources are available in the workplace, there are real benefits to the organisation’s bottom line; self-reported absenteeism as a result of experiencing mental ill-health almost halves (13%).


Employees often don’t know that programs exist

One of the challenges organisations face, is that even when they do have policies, procedures and programs available to support mental health, many of the employees are unaware of them.


“Up to 35% of employees didn’t know that mental health programs existed or how to access them.” – 2014 Industry Report


Part of the solution is to ensure that programs are designed to empower employees at the personal level. They need to be compelling enough to engage people – to have the individual at heart and not just the bottom line.


Embracing a culture of that promotes a mentally healthy workplace

Programs like Unwind, developed in partnership between Savv-e and Medibio are designed to do just that. Unwind is a self-paced, seven-module stress-management program designed for easy deployment across organisations of any size.

This engages both the organisation, represented by people managers who make the program available, and individual employees, who complete the modules, to take responsibility for ensuring a mentally healthy workplace.


“Taking a fifteen-minute power break to grab a shot of caffeine is an accepted part of corporate life, but take a few minutes to sit quietly and meditate, and people think that’s weird.” – Workforce development officer for a large healthcare service provider.


Transforming the culture of today’s highly competitive workplace – where the emphasis is often on performance above all else -- does require a shift in focus. It’s reassuring to see, based on the responses of the management professionals attending our breakfast seminar, that the long-term value of mentally healthy workplaces is starting to get the attention it deserves.

The success of organisational efforts to manage stress in a positive way rely heavily on people managers, who are no strangers to the daily effects of stress in their own lives, to deliver practical programs and help shape a mentally healthy culture for all employees.


Giving employees practical skills that can last a lifetime

One of the most satisfying benefits of a program like Unwind is that the skills employees learn carry over into their personal lives. Stress isn’t something we experience from 9am to 5pm on weekdays, it’s part of everyday life both at work and at home. Learning to manage stress better is a skill that we can use wherever we are to make better choices and to live happier, healthier lives.


“Importantly, when employees are able to make better decisions about their wellness needs, this leads to improved physical health, better relationships and greater self-care and self-compassion.” – Dr Michael Player


 Want to know more?

Discover how your organisation can embrace workplace wellness in actionable ways through an interactive eLearning program. Take a look at the Unwind series of ready-to-go modules available here.


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