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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Take the strain off of workers 

Mike Blake explores the impact of workplace stress, and suggests some measures employers should be taking to tackle the issue.


Create an open-door environment in the office ©Ikon
Create an open-door environment in the office ©Ikon

“A key focus should be training line managers to be better equipped to support their teams”. 

Worker stress is an issue that cannot be ignored, dominating the top health-related concerns for employers. In a climate of job insecurity, multiple roles and the ‘always on call’ culture, no sector or profession is impervious to stress and its associated effects.

Actuaries are no different, contending with stress earlier than most professionals – from the demand for high levels of academic attainment to the long and arduous road to qualification and advancement. The responsibility of managing risk, juggling tasks and the challenge of accurate reporting carries that stress over into workplace. What are employers doing to help?

Research by Willis Towers Watson (WTW) revealed that, despite 52% of UK employees suffering above average or high stress, only 51% of employers are taking steps to reduce it. The WTW Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS) 2018 also revealed the financial and emotional cost of stress: highly stressed workers have almost twice as much time off work as low to moderately stressed workers (5.3 days compared to three days), are more likely to leave their job (46% compared to 19%) and are likely to eat unhealthily, exercise infrequently, smoke and suffer a lack of sleep (61% compared to 34%). In addition, 45% of workers say stress reduces the quality of their work.  

Taking action

Considering the impact stress has on the workforce, such as increased sickness absence and reduced productivity, it is imperative for employers to tackle the issue. This requires an understanding of the primary sources of stress and the ways people prefer to cope with it. Employee-identified issues can be used to create a tailored stress management plan for the workforce, and to help inform the wider health and wellbeing strategy of the company.

A key focus for many employers should be training line managers to be better equipped to support their teams. However, 45% of employees are not comfortable disclosing stress or anxiety issues to their manager, according to GBAS – making it a challenge for managers to build trust among the workforce. Creating an open-door environment in the office will help with this, not only improving the manager-employee relationship, but also allowing employees to be more communicative and raise concerns before work-related stress takes hold. 

Employers should not only be looking at how they can support their staff during times of stress or mental ill-health, but also at implementing preventative measures to ensure issues are identified and tackled before they develop. To do this, it is imperative to establish a proper reporting structure for absence related to stress or mental health issues. Good data is crucial in identifying areas where problems are most acute and in developing appropriate solutions. Data from absences, insurance claims and staff surveys is useful to explore.

In terms of treatment support, companies could look at Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), which are cost-effective benefits that provide employees with access to a 24/7 telephone helplines and trained counsellors. In addition to helpline support, counselling such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), can be delivered face-to-face and offered as an independent employee support intervention. Businesses may also look to introduce initiatives such as mindfulness training. By combining an analytical approach with easy access to treatment and a focus on prevention, companies can establish themselves as purveyors of best practice and employers of choice.

Mike Blake is director and wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson