Stress, anxiety and depression have made it into the top three most common reasons for workplace sickness absence. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2016, mental health issues ranked third behind only flu and musculoskeletal conditions and contributed to the loss of 15.8 million working days. In a 2017 article describing a worrying upward trend, Management Expert, Sophie Swanscott, claimed that stress, as a cause of workplace sick leave, had climbed to second place that year. Now, in 2019, Britain’s biggest employer, the NHS, cite stress-related sickness as the number one reason for absence from work.
Why are stress levels on the rise and what can companies do to help their employees enjoy good mental health and well-being?
Firstly, it’s important to look at the reasons behind stress-related illnesses. Why are stress levels rising? Is stress confined to the workplace or is it more widespread?
The Health and Safety Executive lists 6 stressors that originate in the workplace – demand, control, support, relationships, role and change. Of course, it’s for employers to look at how these issues might affect their workforce and to be able to effectively identify signs of stress exhibited by employees. However, it must not be forgotten that other forces can also be at play when it comes to mental health.
External pressures (financial, logistical and social) have a huge impact on people’s lives. Low salaries, long hours, higher living costs, austerity, job insecurity and contract working add to the burden of financial hardship. And although latest employment figures show that 71.4% of women are now in work, the highest figure since records began in 1971, for women (or men) with children, it’s fair to say that unless family duties are shared with a partner or wider family, life can become a logistical juggling act.
Social factors also do not escape scrutiny here. Indeed there are many issues within society that have the potential to contribute to an overall increase in stress levels. Brexit is, of course, a shining example of how differing views can create division between people, between friends, colleagues and even families. Perceived ideals can also be seen as a curse on our collective mental health. Definitions of happiness, beauty and success are dictated to us via film, TV, and the media and, with the rise of social media over the last decade, such ideals are invading our psyches more frequently and more persistently than ever.
And finally, another thing to consider (and it is perhaps the most important aspect of mental health that employers could seek to address) is a person’s individual way of coping with the stresses and strains of life. I say this with no judgement; how we approach and perceive life is determined by a myriad of factors including genetics, innate temperament and our life experiences. What stresses one person might be of little significance to another and vice-versa. There are as many different interpretations, perceptions and reactions as there are people.
Unfortunately, as figures show, the workplace, in many ways, bears the brunt of these 21st century pressures and stresses and the numbers are continuing to rise.
So, what is the solution?
My advice – refrain from blaming anyone or anything. As Dr Robyn Vesey, Organisational Consultant for Tavistock Consulting, states, “blame is indicative of the problem in the first place.” Instead, try to create a collaborative working environment. Make it known that your company is investing in the health and well-being of its employees. Organise a weekly walk-in hypnotherapy clinic – a qualified hypnotherapist can offer relaxing time-out for employees, a time where they can perhaps choose to air any worrying issues, find solutions to nagging problems or to learn relaxation techniques that they can incorporate into daily life.
Hypnotherapy is a solution-focused therapy; therapists use their expertise to uncover deep rooted beliefs that influence how we experience life, beliefs that determine our expectations, our perceptions and affect how we behave and react to the people around us. The role of the therapist is to challenge these unhelpful beliefs (which we all have) and help and guide the client to a place where the belief is viewed from a more helpful and healthy perspective. And, of course, the work undertaken in the session is reinforced during the hypnotherapeutic process.
Hypnotherapy, I believe, belongs to the world of neuroscience. It works directly with the brain’s ability to change and re-wire itself (neuroplasticity) and to build strong neural networks through the process of repetition. It is able to bypass the part of the mind that is constantly in the present (the conscious mind) and which gives a platform to what I refer to as the Inner Critic, the voice of doom and gloom that hacks away at one’s confidence. During the therapeutic process, as the conscious mind is allowed to enjoy a virtual voyage to a favourite place (real or imaginary) the agreed therapy is able to be delivered with far less resistance which, for me, is one of the main reasons why hypnotherapy is so quick and effective.
Not only does hypnotherapy get great results, the speed at which it can make long-lasting and positive changes means that it is also a very cost-effective investment on the part of employers.
As is widely recognised, happy and healthy workforce make happy, healthy and productive industries.
- HSE, Causes of Stress at Work, Health and Safety Executive, October 2019, https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/causes.htm
- Sarner, M, 2018, How Burnout Became a Sinister and Insidious Epidemic, The Guardian, October 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/21/how-burnout-became-a-sinister-and-insidious-epidemic
- Swanscott, S, 2017, Leading causes of sickness absence: what are they and how do you manage them? The Access Group, October 2019, https://www.theaccessgroup.com/blog/causes-of-sickness-absence/
- ONS, 2017, Sickness absence in the UK labour market: 2016, Office for National Statistics, October 2019, https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/labourproductivity/articles/sicknessabsenceinthelabourmarket/2016#what-are-the-reasons-for-sickness-absence
Anna Ritchie is a registered clinical hypnotherapist specialising in helping people with anxiety issues.
For more info, visit www.annaritchie.com