Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation:
“Over the past few weeks, the press have reported several cases of high-powered senior business executives taking time off work because they were experiencing high levels of stress. In these influential circles, admitting that you suffer from stress is often but wrongly seen as a weakness, with people rarely admitting to stress-related problems. This shouldn’t be the case. I am not prepared to join in with the ill-informed speculation about whether or not these professionals have the right to complain because they benefit from high wages. I think that having high powered senior business executives speak out about their stress might help to tackle some of the stigma that surrounds admitting that you’re stressed and might encourage people to be more open about it.
Stress can be defined as the way you feel when you’re worried about being able to cope. A moderate level of stress can better your performance by enabling you to respond to challenging situations, such as presentations or interviews. However, excessive or prolonged stress can lead to mental or physical health problems, which is why symptoms of stress must be tackled early.
Stress can affect anyone. Research has shown that the worst jobs for stress are low skilled ones in which employees have little control, high uncertainty, and work in a poor environment. Other clearly stressful jobs are reported to be those that are highly pressurised, multi-tasking and high risk, such as a soldier or an air traffic controller, possibly twinned with poor security and safety or high danger. Working in a high-powered job can also be stressful but as this involves having more control and autonomy, it can also result in experiencing less stress than being at the bottom of the hierarchy where there is a sense of powerlessness. Nevertheless, these senior employees might struggle with other issues such as having the right work-life balance due to their long hours and hectic lifestyle, or with the lack of control they have over the global economic environment.
I think it’s essential that employers help reduce the level of stress that their employees feel at work as around 13 million working days are lost each year through anxiety and stress-related conditions and mental ill-health costs employers around £26 billion a year. Prolonged stress can also impact negatively on the performance of an employee in the workplace.
Senior management and line managers should encourage employees to talk about their concerns by maintaining open, trusting and supportive relationships with them, so that any issues of stress or anxiety can be appropriately addressed. Not doing so risks the long-term mental wellbeing of staff, which in turn could increase rates of absenteeism or impair productivity amongst those who remain at work.
Finally, I would like to take my hat off to any top executive who discloses stress - they help all of us.”
Find out how to manage your stress in the workplace
16 November 2011