Stress at work


Stress less at work

Stress in the workplace is costing you more than you think

The fact of the matter is that stress actually costs more than you can imagine. The costs don’t only include the costs that you can calculate and quantify quite easily, but also the impact that isn’t that obvious, the knock-on effect stress has on everything and everyone around the afflicted individual.

Psychosocial stress factors impact the individual, the company, family, colleagues, the community, as well as the economic welfare of the country.  When it affects the GDP, it’s a vicious cycle; people have less money to spend, and so are less likely to buy non-essentials, which may include your products, services or facilities. We all lose.

Addressing underlying stress problems makes business sense. Stress-related disorders affect your bottom line more radically than you can imagine not only in terms of visible costs like staff costs, replacement costs because of high turnover, lost production costs, healthcare costs, admin costs, possible litigation expenses e.g. as a result of accidents, compensation costs, damage to property and equipment, and so on, but also in the invisible costs of reduced performance and productivity loss, inferior quality output, product or service, ill-will, low morale, unhealthy mental state, accidents, errors, revenge, violence, aggression, abuse, and other underhand activities, some of which may even be unconscious. If you start thinking about it you will see that this is but a short list of the negative side-effects a compromised individual can have on the bottom line of your business.

Economic Impact of Psychosocial Stress Factors

Absenteeism due to psychosocial stress factors are costing South African businesses in the region of R19 billion per year.
Presenteeism (go slow, increase in errors and accidents, reduced productivity and quality of workmanship, aggression, bad vibes and other undermining and negative behaviour) is costing companies even more than absenteeism, and it is much more difficult to calculate and quantify, so the research statistics about this is very conservative. At the very least presenteeism is costing businesses as much as absenteeism.

There is a definite business case for management and prevention of stress in the workplace.

Evidence suggests that failure to address the problem of psychosocial stress factors is more costly for employers, workers, and society than the cost to address them. It is of national importance to alleviate unhealthy stress in all sectors of life.

Research Statistics about stress in the UK

According to the European Commission work related stress cost the UK 20 billion Euros in 2002, which was a very conservative estimate of 10% of the total cost to the EU of between 185 to 289 billion Euros. (That was then; it has probably taken a hike by now with the increase in pace of the modern work environment, the pressure to perform and reach ever increasing targets). Another study estimated that 10.4 million workdays were lost due to work-related stress in 2011/12 and these individuals were absent an average of 24 days.

Other  stress statistics that are astounding and disturbing:

  • 19-25% of staff turnover is due to stress at work
  • At least 10% of all leave is stress related
  • If you always work under pressure the accident rate is five times higher
  • 42% white collar workers take early retirement due to work-related psychological disorders
  • Most of the following diseases develop as a result of distress / overstress:
    • Cardiovascular problems as a result of poor work organization, lack of social support, physical inactivity, shift-work (particularly nightshift), social isolation, effort-reward imbalance, high to excessive demands and deadlines, occupational violence, and poor physical psychosocial work environment.
    • Musculoskeletal problems; repetitive stress injuries (frequent use of the same muscles e.g. welding and typing), pain in the neck and shoulders, back and upper limbs, feet, rheumatoid arthritis, lower back pain. Cost in region of 2% of GDP. Also as result of poor work organization and lack of support.
    • Type II Diabetes (15 years later in women, not men); with its associated conditions; renal failure, foot problems, circulation problems. As a result of low job control (this may include sexual harassment).
    • Mental health and brain disorders; the most costly disorder.

Psychosocial problems affect everyone

The individual experiences emotional strain which results in reduced quality of life, a decline in relationships with their spouse, children, friends and other family members, and they often withdraw from community involvement.  The individual could become a financial burden due to health impairment both physical and mental, and due to disability or inactivity may then become the victim of mobbing or other violence.

  • The family is affected – spouse, children, and extended family (e.g. parents if their adult children have to move back into the parental home with their whole family if they can’t afford their own place any longer because they are unemployable), and social interaction and community involvement wanes due to loss of face, influence, position, health and other associated reasons.
  • The organisation is affected – a loss of staff morale, goodwill, reputation, brand choice, investors and stakeholder interest. The organisation loses money when the person becomes ill or dies; premature retirement, staff replacement costs, medical benefit and healthcare costs, rehabilitation. The company could lose money due to litigation, compensation and grievance procedure costs as well as reduced production and damage to equipment as a result of accidents and errors. Colleagues may get involved in accidents, and be affected by bad tempers, aggression, or irritability.
  • The country is affected – in the GDP when the national economy is influenced in terms of health care, mortality, insurance, etc. and puts a strain on the national health services and social welfare.


Presenteeism is a term used when the person is at work but mentally not present due to a number of debilitating stress factors in their personal, or private life.

Minor accidents, injuries, increase in errors, go slow, compromised performance , productivity and quality of output, bad vibes, undermining behaviour and even pilfering are indications of presenteeism (the person is at work but has a negative attitude and is not performing up to standard). Presenteeism cost is significantly higher than absenteeism and is much more difficult to calculate and quantify. In the UK presenteeism costs is apparently approximately 605 pounds per employee per year. Presenteeism is a result of bad workplace morale, long hours, tight deadlines, self medication for stress, prescription drugs and other psychosocial problems and challenges.

Absenteeism – due to psychosocial (stress) factors

Absent from work (or even death) as a result of major accident or illness.

  • Colleagues are overloaded because they have to take on more work, or you need to overstaff to compensate for absenteeism. Overtime costs if colleagues take over the load (and a possibility of them becoming ill due to overwork), replacement costs, or extra staff costs.
  • Gradual return to work and reintegration; temporary assignments when the person is re-introduced and can only do modified tasks or part of the work, part of the time. The result is deadlines are not met and projects are left unfinished or you have production bottlenecks. Reduced production and productivity (work time) = no of hours not worked per day. Not to mention loss of face when you do not deliver as promised which could result in loss of business, customer complaints that need to be addressed, and maybe quality control problems.
  • Training is needed if you accommodate them elsewhere when the person can no longer do what they were hired to do. Training costs.
  • Cost of managing disability cases; admin, HR, and physical (e.g. special typewriter, chair, wheelchair ramps and other equipment to accommodate the impairment).
  • Indirect harm to other colleagues involved in an accident.
  • Equipment damage costs.
  • Loss of intellectual capital and expertise.
  • Legal costs for disputes, litigation, grievance procedures and court cases.
  • Union leave time when union authorities devote time to mental health problems in the workplace.
  • Increased health insurance contribution because individuals need psychotherapeutic drugs, counselling and other medical or alternative health care.

Organisational problems that cause stress:

  • No or inadequate social support from supervisors /HR
  • Quantitative demands
  • Insufficient influence at work
  • Inadequate possibilities for development
  • Organizational reshuffling; retrenchments, dismissals, and lay-offs make people fear for their livelihood, especially if they are not involved in the decision making process
  • Job strain (high demand, low control) has a significantly higher likelihood to show depressive symptoms
  • Low job satisfaction
  • Job insecurity
  • Violence and aggression
  • Sexual harassment
  • High job demands

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