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How Irish businesses combat workplace stress

Anxiety, stress and depression are the second highest causes of work-related illness in Ireland

A recent Europe-wide survey conducted by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work shows that 22 per cent of Irish workers experience stress at work either “always” or “most of the time”.

Irish workers have been revealed to be among the most stressed in the EU.

A recent Europe-wide survey conducted by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work shows that 22 per cent of Irish workers experience stress at work either “always” or “most of the time”.

A 2016 ESRI study also found anxiety, stress and depression were the second highest causes of work-related illness in Ireland.

So how are Irish businesses working to combat this? Earlier this year, companies across the country were encouraged to “light up green” to show their support for mental-health-awareness month. This was part of the Green Ribbon campaign to end the stigma around mental health.

According to Siobhan O’Shea of CPL Recruitment, Irish businesses are very conscious of well-being and mental health in the workplace. “There has been huge growth in engagement on well-being in the workplace. Because of the rise in anxiety and stress, organisations recognise the need to be able to offer their employees a way of dealing with their mental and physical well-being. Having a workforce who are healthy, happy and engaged has also been shown to improve a company’s bottom line. It makes sense as there’s less burnout, higher productivity and better morale and team spirit.”

Caroline McEnery, managing director of the HR Suite, agrees. “Because we’re in a full labour market, and because it’s very difficult to attract and retain talent, particularly at the graduate level, employers are really stepping up to the mark, and most organisations have some support mechanisms in place, but really the most important things they need to have in place are the mentor system, the buddy system, an open-door policy and that initial encouragement.”

McEnery believes a positive “onboarding” experience for new employees will have a big impact on their experience and overall well-being within the company. She finds the “buddy” system, to be particularly useful. “We all know the induction will tell them where the canteen is and all of the usual stuff, but the buddy is the one who will say, ‘Do you want to come for lunch today?’ or ‘How are you getting on with that project, can I help?’ They’re the person looking out for them, and the go-to person for informal stuff, when you need someone to point you in the right direction.”

Beyond a “buddy”, other support mechanisms in place within the company will make a new recruit feel welcome. “Then they will generally also get a mentor, who is not their manager but someone else in the organisation who is there to help coach their career and signpost them, help give them feedback if they are encountering challenges in the job – their job would be to support them in that regard,” says McEnery.

Preventative approach

Facebook seeks to take a preventative approach when it comes to employee well-being, explains Colin Graham, director of international compensation and benefits. “We break it down into physical well-being, mental well-being, and the other aspects of life like parenting and financial well-being. Ultimately, all of these things are interrelated: your mental well-being can be very much impacted by how you feel physically and how you take care of yourself, and also impacted by what you eat and how much you sleep, and if you have financial concerns or family concerns.”

As part of this approach, Facebook holds health screenings, mindfulness classes, Pilates and yoga classes, financial well-being programmes, parenting programmes, and even sleep programmes.

“We have a programme called ‘Sleepio’ which is app-based, where employees can go in and get their ‘sleep score’ – if their sleep score is good, they’re fine, if it’s not, there might be some advice they can get, or they can be plugged into a cognitive behavioural therapy programme that helps them improve their sleep. Obviously that’s critical to all of our lives in terms of building resilience, but also in terms of feeling good and having to focus when people need to work,” says Graham.

Sleep appears to be an issue across the board, says McEnery. “Sleep is a massive thing for people now – people are not getting enough sleep, and whether it’s using sleeping apps or sleeping techniques, businesses are trying to combat that too.”

The companies offering these kinds of services are not just the larger companies such as Facebook, explains O’Shea. “There are companies doing excellent work on well-being, and it’s not just the multinationals – there are plenty of smaller businesses who are looking at nutrition, exercise and mindfulness classes, for example, in order to meet their employees’ needs. It will only become a bigger priority, and that’s a consequence of our always being ‘on’, access to technology 24/7, finding it hard to switch off – those habits that are part of our DNA now.”

However, it is the more basic support mechanisms that will make the bigger difference in the long run, maintains McEnery. “To be honest, it’s no good having the yoga classes if you don’t have the other things in place. I would say to prioritise the mentor and the buddy and the open-door policy around asking questions if you’re not sure, and encouraging a culture that’s open and inclusive of diversity, because that’s the most important thing. The other things are brilliant, but they are the second phase in relation to developing resilience.”

Facebook has taken strides within the company to destigmatise mental-health difficulties, encouraging employees to open up about their experiences, and offering them support.

“We ran a campaign globally called ‘Open Up’, and it was just to impress upon people that, like physical well-being, your mental health needs to be nurtured through positive daily habits as well,” explains Graham. “So we provided resources to people, we provided a platform in terms of Facebook internally, on our workplace platform where people could share their experiences with mental health – they weren’t forced to share it but people did, quite senior people shared the challenges they have had, and that helps normalise it and create a conversation, and from that I suppose, focusing on prevention, we put a big focus on building resilience.”

A Lidl help for employees

German retailer Lidl runs a well-being programme called Work Safe. Live Well. Focusing on three core areas – physical safety at work, physical and mental health, and financial well-being – the programme is designed to take a holistic approach to the area of employee well-being.

“The conversation around mental health is growing every day and so continuing this conversation and reducing the stigma around mental health is a key objective for us,” says Lidl’s Evanna McGrath.

The company has partnered with Jigsaw, the youth mental health service, to provide training through the ‘Be Mindful’ campaign. The campaign aims to help create an environment conducive to good mental health. The company also provides a five-week webinar programme which focuses on how employees can manage anxiety, stress in the workplace and how to build resilience and other mental health topics.

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