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Stress will pull you down

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Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett has warned business owners that the most important person they have to look after is themselves.

Mr Kennett, when addressing a conference of chief executives from medium-sized businesses in Hobart, said: “If you had asked me 10 years ago what was the most important thing in my life, I would have answered my family, no question about it.

“But my health is now more important than my family. “

However, these are not the ravings of a self-possessed politician gone a bit loopy. There is a valid argument for what seems like selfishness gone mad.

“If we are not personally fit, we can't attend to our families, relationships and business,” he said. “No one should have a goal to die on the job.”

Mr Kennett is chairman of Beyondblue, the national depression initiative, which he said represented “the most important work in my life”.

Stress in the workplace has become a hot topic, with the Australian Institute of Management recently alerting bosses to the fact that a high percentage of companies and government departments are in breach of occupational health and safety legislation. The reason is that many employers don't have an action plan in place to deal with workplace stress and other psychological health risks.

A national survey of more than 50 major companies and government departments revealed that only 13 per cent had a systematic process in place to deal with workplace stress issues. This was despite the fact it was mandatory for businesses to have these processes and it comes as employee compensation claims for stress are rising rapidly.

What is interesting is that about 70 per cent of bosses and managers know they aren't doing enough to stop the likes of bullying, harassment and other stress issues.

Research commissioned by Medibank Private, in conjunction with corporate health consultants Vielife, found a measurable link between a person's health and lifestyle and how productive they were at work.

The project found more than half of the workforce was stressed, with 53 per cent of those surveyed reporting feeling overwhelmed by stress and pressure a significant proportion of the time.

“More than half of the Australian workforce is not getting enough sleep,” the report says. “Fifty six per cent of those surveyed get less than seven hours sleep each night, with 22 per cent reporting feeling un-refreshed or exhausted during work.”

About 20 per cent had some form of psychological distress, with 12 per cent putting their hand up with depression and another 10 per cent admitting to anxiety.

For those looking for a pay off, unhealthy workers had 18 days sick leave compared with two days for healthy ones. Even more alarming was the revelation that unhealthy employees worked an average of 49 effective hours a month compared to 143 effective hours for healthy employees.

Sydney-based clinical psychologist and founder of The Happiness Institute, Timothy Sharp, thinks employees aren't the only ones coping with stress, with employers having to cope with the mounting pressure of a tight labour market. “I talk to many business groups, and many business owners/managers are stressed about finding and retaining good staff,” Dr Sharp said. “This is a challenging issue but they could help themselves and their staff by creating an environment where staff feel satisfied.”

He believes the main goal for business owners is to stop doing too much and to build in more breaks into their working day, week and year.

“I call it pacing, where breaks – they might only be 10 or 15 minutes – might come every two hours,” Dr Sharp said. “They have to get up stretch and maybe get some fresh air. Excessive work results in a poor return on investment (ROI).”

The Medibank report found positive workplace programs provide enormous benefits and that for every dollar spent on health promotion programs, the ROI is between $3 and $5.

“For business owners, I find they are not good at delegating and always want to do everything,” Dr Sharp said. “The most successful entrepreneurs are often those who employ people who are better than them in particular areas and they also implement systems to reduce frustrations and stress.”


Published on: Friday, October 23, 2009

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