According to the Stress Management Society (SMS), more than 105 million days a year are lost as a result of stress, which costs UK employers some £1.24bn. It defines stress as the demands on a person exceeding their resources or ability to cope.

Stress is believed to affect a fifth of UK workers and it has become the biggest cause of staff absence. In 2014/15 stress accounted for 35 per cent of all work-related ill health cases and 43 per cent of all working days lost because of ill health according to the Office for National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey).

Harming productivity

The SMS website highlights Health and Safety Executive (HSE) research (a survey of senior UK HR professionals and more than 2,000 employees) which found that 52 per cent of respondents believe workplace stress is increasing, 60 per cent think it damages staff retention and 83 per cent believe stress harms productivity.

So, even if your stressed-out employees are actually making it in to work, they’re not as productive as they could be if they worked in a less stressful environment. According to the Health and Safety Executive, the most common causes of work-related stress, depression or anxiety were “workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility, and a lack of managerial support.”

Combating stress

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. They must also conduct work-related stress risk assessments.

HSE offer guidance to employers on how to reduce stress in the workplace (including a handy 10-point checklist to get started). Other advice is offered by the NHS, Acas, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, Forbes.com, The Guardian and many others.

What we eat and drink is said to affect how we react to stress. While some foods (eg tea, coffee, energy drinks, fast food, butter, cheese, sugar, alcohol, fizzy drinks, etc), are best avoided because they make things worse, others (eg water, fresh vegetables and fruits, fish, soup, herbal products, etc) are reported to help.

Mindfulness meditation

Some approaches to combating workplace stress are less conventional than others. As reported by The Independent in 2015, “Mindfulness meditation is big business in London’s Square Mile”. This form of meditation is said to help focus the mind, boost concentration and productivity, while “leaders gain empathy and patience, which will result in a happier team.”

As Independent writer Sioban Norton explains, it requires “taking your time, considering the now, experiencing the moment.” With its western origins dating back to the 1960s, it’s more popular than you might imagine, with advocates ranging from Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Sadie Frost to the US Marine Corps. And according to Norton: “Tech geniuses are walking the labyrinth in Silicon Valley, world leaders are jostling for a cross-legged sitting space at international conferences, and, even in the City, bankers are taking a pause.”

Apparently, it’s encouraged at top banking firms, such as Goldman Sachs, Barclays and JP Morgan, with “many offering mindfulness courses and retreats.” And although you and some of your people may think you’re far too busy for such contemplation during your hectic working day, Norton recalls a Zen proverb that says: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

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