Insight & Analysis

Warning: professionals ‘too busy to deal with stress’

Stressed person squeezing yellow stress ball with a smiley face on it

New research reveals that the professional services industry is the worst when it comes to workers dealing with stress, with many not able to alleviate the pressure. Measures must be taken now, experts warn.

Over half (58%) of professional services workers do ‘little or nothing’ to reduce stress levels outside of work. Lack of time is cited as the key reason for 78%.

A survey of 1,015 adults in employment carried out by UK-based ‘learning marketplace’, Obby.co.uk, reveals that professional services workers – including bankers, investment managers and other financial professionals, including treasurers – are the worst at taking the time to relieve their stress levels.

Professional services workers were followed by those in education and healthcare, with 55% and 53% of staff in these sectors respectively unable to wind down at the end of the day.

For the overwhelming majority of professional services workers who claimed this was the case, it is a lack of free time that is their biggest obstacle (78%).

But not having the time to decompress from the daily grind could be damaging to individuals’ health and wellbeing and could potentially store up problems for organisations and their customers.

Take it seriously

“It’s extremely worrying how many workers within professional services claim they do not prioritise getting the stress relief that is so important for maintaining their mental health,” comments Tom Batting, Co-Founder at Obby. “The irony is that this can actually become a vicious cycle – if we don’t make time for stress relief, this can lead to becoming more stressed or even burnout, both of which can reduce productivity further.”

It’s in the interest of all organisations to ensure that employees do take measures to manage their stress levels, adds Batting. Although reducing stress can positively impact employees’ focus and efficiency in the workplace, only 19% of respondents said their employer offers healthy ways to de-stress as part of their benefits package. Some 79% said they would welcome workplace-based activities to relieve stress if their employer offered them.

This year’s AFP event for the US treasury community, held in Chicago, saw the inclusion of a Wellness Zone, offering tips on deep sleep, all-day energy and power meditation. It’s a sign someone is paying attention.

Worst performers

According to the 2018 Cigna 360° Wellbeing Survey, which explores wellbeing concerns in 23 countries worldwide, the UK ranks fifth worst in the world for “unmanageable” stress, behind the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Korea. More than 14,000 people were polled worldwide.

A separate survey of 200 HR managers by consultancy Barnett Waddingham found that whilst 79% saw addressing mental health concerns as a priority, only 47% of organisations believe they are dealing with mental health effectively. And with 22% of organisations not seeing mental health as a priority, Laura Matthews, Workplace Wellbeing Consultant at Barnett Waddingham said: “For it to be taken more seriously, employers need to understand the impact it can have on a business – as well as the individual”.

Early death

An academic study into the impact of stress on workers’ health published in the general medical journal, The Lancet, revealed that workplace stress adds significantly to the likelihood of premature death in males with heart problems. The study tracked more than 100,000 people from Finland, France, Sweden and the UK over a 14 year period.

Once health and lifestyle factors such as obesity or smoking had been factored in, the results showed that men with pre-existing cardiometabolic disease that had experienced ‘job strain’ had a 68% greater risk of premature death. The researchers found that job strain had no impact on women’s death rates.

The report’s authors urge employers to better manage those vulnerable to stress. A senior author on the study, Andrew Steptoe, British Heart Foundation professor of psychology at University College London, told The Guardian newspaper: “We are keen for people to take this seriously instead of saying to people who have got terrible stress: ‘What you need to do is exercise more and not smoke’, because that is not going to solve the problem. There’s more that needs to be done.”

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