Links between sickness and stress
According to a Swedish study, stressful work situations increase the odds of employees calling in sick.
Researchers studied around 550 cases of sick leave in six workplaces in Sweden in the manufacturing, health care and financial sectors between 2005 and 2007.
They found that if an employee has an unpleasant encounter with their superior, they are 3.36 times more likely to call in sick in the following two workdays. If the problem they experience is with a colleague, they are 4.68 times more likely to call in sick.
Examples of such encounters include insufficient appreciation, conflict, criticism and being disregarded or brushed aside.
Experts interviewed agreed that feelings of being treated unfairly can be a huge source of stress, for which we all have different abilities to deal with.
If employees are anticipating a stressful day (one that might include additional responsibility, tight deadlines or fewer staff), they are 2.27 times more likely to call in sick. However, don’t assume they are faking their illness. Experts noted that someone who might already be fighting a cold but who hasn’t yet taken sick leave, may feel that a stressful day could have a negative impact on their illness. Calling in sick is therefore their coping mechanism.
Stress can manifest itself both physically and mentally, and can cause “genuine illnesses” such as headaches, anxiety or even heart problems.
As an employer, what can you do to help reduce stress in the workplace?
- Offer a supportive culture in which employees feel valued and empowered, with autonomy and the opportunity to voice their thoughts, opinions or concerns
- Offer a flexible work environment where possible to help employees achieve balance (see our previous article on teleworking for suggestions on how you can make this work for your organization)
- Ensure you have solid management practices that are fair and consistent. Practice clear and honest communication, not only with your team but also your colleagues
Too much stress can be unhealthy for both the employee and the organization. As an employer though, you have the ability to influence the levels of stress in the workplace. With your words and actions you are setting the tone of the company; choose to create and nurture a healthy culture of balance, and foster cohesion among colleagues rather than conflict.