Stress resilience: the elephant in the boardroom

Woman holding her head over the desk to illustrate stress resilience

Stress resilience is rarely discussed at board level, but failure to address this issue pushes it underground – and the consequences could be calamitous, says PW Consulting’s Tricia Woolfrey

Targets, shareholder value, margins, five-year plans, quarter results, headcount, competition and marketing plans. These are staples of every boardroom. But there is an important item often missing from the agenda: something which is taboo in many organisations, but which can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line.

With one in six workers experiencing depression, anxiety or stress – at an estimated cost of £26bn to the UK economy (Office for National Statistics 2009) – hasn’t stress resilience earned its place in the boardroom?

Whether the problem is manifested in absenteeism or presenteeism, the business suffers. Profits thrive best in an environment where performance and productivity are optimal. That can only happen when employees are healthy, clear-thinking, optimistic, supported – and exhibit stress resilience. It is easy for a sufferer to hide behind a sea of activity but in time deadlines will be missed, deals lost, lines crossed, customer service will suffer and teamwork will erode.

So it makes sense that stress and wellness are part of the boardroom agenda. No one is immune – in fact it is often the highest performers who are most at risk because they push themselves so hard. And it doesn’t help to have a tough management style because that pushes the problem underground. And this is definitely not the kind of problem you want to ignore.

Why? Apart from the reasons already mentioned, it puts your business at risk of legal action if it is found that appropriate steps to safeguard the wellbeing of your employees, to make them more stress resilient, were not taken.

And then there is the risk to your brand – that’s something you can’t put a price on.

Hiring good staff is a long and expensive process. Training them is an additional investment. Attracting top talent is harder if you have a reputation for letting good people crash and burn. So it makes sense to safeguard your investment with a good stress and wellness strategy. Because taking care of your employees is taking care of business.

Low stress resilience – the warning signs

But for now, here are a few of the early-warning signs to look out for:

  • More errors being made
  • Greater resistance to change
  • Increase in interpersonal tensions
  • Rise in absenteeism
  • Timelines being missed
  • Reduction in office banter
  • Surge in emotional outbursts or aggression
  • Less tolerance
  • More withdrawn
  • More forgetful

Other changes to be aware of include tearfulness, more cigarette breaks, eating more junk food, alcohol on breath, laughter which seems forced, appearing vacant or shut down during conversations, being more negative or cynical.

In these lean and mean times, it is tempting to take a hard line but that is likely to push the problem deeper. Creating fear may bring short-term results but it is bound to create long-term problems which are harder to resolve. In any event, it is likely to be one of the causes of the problem in the first place.

Training your management team on how to identify and manage people who are at their lowest ebb will certainly help. Teaching your employees how to become more stress resilient will improve profitability, loyalty and the not-to-be underestimated atmosphere in the office.

About author

Tricia Woolfrey

Tricia Woolfrey

Tricia Woolfrey is an expert in stress-resilience, performance and productivity with PW Consulting

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