Workplace stress – using biometrics to understand stress and build resilience

Last month the health secretary intimated that the NHS would struggle to cope with demand over the next 10 years and that the health of the nation would depend on individuals and organisations. Whatever your political standpoint, it is clear that the health of employees and tackling workplace stress is going to become an increasing focus for business.

According to the UK Health & Safety Executive, in 2016-17, over half a million workers were suffering from ‘workplace stress, depression or anxiety’ resulting in the loss of 12.5 million working days at a cost of around £26 billion to employers. These figures represent almost half of ALL working days lost to ill-health with staff citing ‘workload pressure’ as the dominant cause. We only need look at our public services to see the dramatic cost to both schools and the NHS of the provision of supply staff covering for the sickness absence of essential employees.

workplace stress

workplace stress

How can HR departments best address this devastating issue? How can they use experiential insight to help design, implement and monitor tailored interventions that will work to bolster resilience, improve wellbeing, cut workplace stress, reduce sickness absence and increase staff satisfaction and productivity?

Stress is essential for growth. Without stressing our bodies and minds we do not grow and adapt. Excessive stress, however, has a negative impact on our physiology and psychology and effects our physical and mental wellbeing. We can of course build our resilience to stress; our brains and bodies adapt to changing environments and pressures all the time. What we need to know is when are we placing excessive stress on individuals and to understand what businesses and individuals can do to mitigate these situations and build individual and organisational resilience.

During our pioneering research using biometrics to understand peoples’ physiological reaction to experiences, our evidence shows that if we monitor the physiological signs of stress through heart rate variability over an extended period of time, we can understand the causes of excessive stress in both work and home life. We can then use this to help organisations and individuals mitigate, cope and adapt to excessive levels of stress. These programmes in turn create more resilient and healthier individuals and the organisations they work for.

Why can’t we just survey people about workplace stress?

Asking people about the causes of stress simply doesn’t get to the truth. Firstly, this is a sensitive issue and people may be reluctant to tell the truth to their employers; secondly, people are not always consciously aware of the underlying causes of stress; thirdly, surveys are biased by recent events and their poor design. What is needed is an objective understanding of the unconscious and physiological reactions to stress.

If we connect volunteer employees to advanced biometric devices for 72 hours, we can understand the underlying cause of their stress. We can then design interventions to help. These may be organisational programmes, management training or individual interventions.

A happy, healthy (physically and mentally) work force is undoubtedly more productive and has less time off for sickness. Bottom line cost savings, increases in personal and organisational resilience, happy teams, less time dealing with these issues – the benefits to business and individuals are significant.

Read more about our approach to using biometrics in the employee experience