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An organization that sets out to take positive action on stress at work must commit itself to the costs involved to reap the full benefits. These benefits can be measured financially as well as in terms of morale and increased productivity.

Starting gradually

Taking steps to minimize stress involves change, which itself is often stressful. Remember that the costs of a stress-management programme can include poor morale if the scheme fails. Introduce such programmes gradually to ensure that each step achieves its aim. For example, if employees are given free membership at a local gym, monitoring the staff usage will provide a good indication of how popular it is. If the facilities are well used, it might be worthwhile considering providing an on-site company gym, secure in the knowledge that it would not be a waste of money.

Committing to change

Stress management is not a quick-fix solution. To be effective, intervention must extend indefinitely, and the emphasis should gradually shift from cure of stress to prevention. Initially, the aim should be to reduce absenteeism by removing or changing the factors that create stress. Once the drop in absenteeism levels off, the programme should aim to prevent it from rising again. So, in the early stages the emphasis should be on change, while later it should be on monitoring and maintaining the wellbeing of staff.

Making changes

The chief executive mentioned in the case study focused on shifting the emphasis from speed to quality of work, and building team spirit. These measures increased both job satisfaction and efficiency, and thereby reduced stress levels in the workforce.

Case study

Mudd & Son, a farm machinery manufacturer, appointed a forward-thinking chief executive who discovered problems with absenteeism and low morale among the workers. Employees worked on a piecework system – those who worked quickly were paid more than those who did not.

The chief executive developed a radical plan for change. The piecework system was replaced with single-status employment, in which workers were divided into grades. The better the quality of work, the higher the grade of pay. She also introduced a bonus scheme rewarding workers’ oustanding achievement.

Signatures of agreement were obtained from all the employees before the changes were implemented. This made the workers feel more like a team, and had a positive long-term effect on output.

Building on success

The case study discussed here, shows that the company structure was found to be the cause of falling profits. Although the fundamental changes introduced to solve the problem met with resistance, the improved relations between staff and management benefited the whole company, lowering stress and ultimately raising profits.

Case study

A large electronics company suffered a sharp drop in profit due to a high staff turnover. A team of management consultants were appointed by the directors to investigate the problem, and reported too rigid a management structure and a general lack of communication between staff and management.

Changes to the structure of the company were proposed and implemented. The consultants then suggested that all employees should go on team-building courses involving taking part in a range of outdoor activities.

Despite initial resistance from certain managers, the first course went ahead. Team members noted an increase in trust and understanding during the course. Many managers who attended the course also reported improved working relations with colleagues and junior staff.

TIP

Be aware of your company’s policy on stress management.

TIP

Monitor cases of absenteeism: which days of the week are the worst?

TIP

Seek out factual evidence for the effectiveness of any intervention.

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