Employers should be alert to the hidden dangers of ‘presenteeism’ among their staff, a local GP warned this week.
Dr Nick Tait, who divides his time between his Leamington NHS surgery and TFJ Private GP Services, a private medical group of doctors based at the nearby Nuffield Health Warwickshire Hospital, said that the condition — in which employees turn up for work but are not in a fit physical or mental state to be able to perform their duties properly — needed to be identified and dealt with promptly and supportively if those members of staff affected were not to suffer lasting damage.
His warning comes in the wake of a survey by the not-for-profit Birmingham health insurance company BHSF on how modern life is affecting the UK workforce and what employers can do about it.
The report, entitled Breaking the Cycle, found that presenteeism was rife among the 1,000 people surveyed. Sixty-three per cent declared that stress had kept them awake at night and, consequently, they had been less productive at work. In addition, 58% of respondents said they had gone into work despite suffering health or stress issues. Half of those surveyed said they had felt under pressure from their employer to return to work quickly after they had had time off. Furthermore, only 36% felt that their employer would give them the help needed if they approached them about a mental health issue.
Dr Tait, a specialist in occupational health issues, said: “A certain amount of stress is a natural part of life but excessive stress, especially where the sufferer feels there is no escape, such as in the workplace, can lead to all sorts of symptoms and possible long-term harm.
“Physical symptoms can include minor illnesses without an obvious cause, back pain, digestion problems and even heart disease. More insidious are the psychological effects such as anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, relationship problems, emotional instability and depression.”
For the employer this could mean reduced productivity, increased sickness absences, reduced staff morale and higher staff turnover, said Dr Tait.
He recommends that employers should, as a matter of course, identify possible causes of stress and provide appropriate support to staff. Causes of stress might be the culture of the organisation, the demands made on staff, the degree to which staff feel they lack control over their working lives, the working relationships between staff and managers, the degree and the rate of change taking place within the organisation.
Employers should then consider what action was being taken to reduce possible stress, whether that was sufficient and what more might be done.
Employers should also take steps to identify employees particularly likely to be at risk from stress. These might be people returning to work after a period of sickness and those experiencing a significant life-changing event or domestic crisis, such as divorce or bereavement.
“Employees, too, have a responsibility to themselves and their colleagues,” said Dr Tait. “If there is a problem with stress in the workplace they should raise it with their manager or, if appropriate, with the company’s human resource management department. At an individual level, they should consider whether a change of role would make them more comfortable, or seek advice from a doctor.
“Also, they could adopt a number of strategies to help them deal with stress, such as meditation or relaxation techniques, exercise, adopting a healthier lifestyle, talking through their problems with family and friends or seeking counselling—anything than just worry!”