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Work-related woes leave staff highly strung

Job stress comes in different forms and while a certain amount of workplace stress is considered by some experts to be positive, it can lead to adverse consequences, such as lower productivity as well as emotional and physical health problems.

A survey by Regus, a global office and workplace provider, suggests that economic volatility has left Hong Kong workers frazzled, with 57 per cent of respondents reporting they are experiencing more stress-related ailments. The survey further shows that stress seems to be causing an increase in worker absenteeism (51 per cent).

“Workers are expected to do more with less, and this has taken a toll on them in terms of workplace stress levels,” says John Henderson, Regus chief finance officer. “The global downturn and subsequent period of unprecedented growth in emerging economies have had a destabilising effect, putting further strain on businesses and their employees.”

According to the survey, 38 per cent of local staff feel less confident about their sector, 35 per cent are worried about losing their jobs, while 35 per cent report that their family and friends have noticed they are stressed by work.

“None of this is in the interest of employers. Businesses that are proactive in addressing stress issues are likely to end up with healthier and more engaged workers,” Henderson says.

In China, 40 per cent of respondents are worried about being terminated, compared with 34 per cent in Singapore. More than 60 per cent of mainland respondents say their family and friends have noticed their work stress and 40 per cent feel less confident about their sector – compared with 40 per cent and 35 per cent in Singapore, respectively. 

In Hong Kong, 72 per cent of respondents say that flexible working arrangements could help to reduce their work-related stress levels, compared with 77 per cent in Singapore and 88 per cent on the mainland.

Henderson adds that flexible working practices can help to provide employees with a sense of control over their work-life balance commitments. “If employees are able to reduce their stress levels by working efficiently from somewhere other than the main office, they are likely to be less distracted and be more productive,” he says.

He also believes companies that are able to help staff manage their stress levels can enjoy lower talent turnover.

Professor Siu Oi-ling, head of Lingnan University’s department of applied psychology, says stress can affect people in various ways. “It’s crucial to identify what causes stress in different people and how they cope,” says Siu, who has more than 18 years’ experience in occupational stress research.

She says a wide range of work circumstances can lead to stress, but is often made worse when employees feel they lack support from supervisors and colleagues, as well as having minimal control over work processes. Siu says employees using mobile devices at home for work-related purposes is a rising cause of family conflict, which can also cause stress.

Addressing the causes of workplace stress does not have to be complicated, Siu says. For example, engaging workers in planning and decision-making can help empower them. Siu says managers can be trained to identify stress and help staff cope. Using praise and encouraging staff to talk about stress factors at work can be beneficial, Siu adds.

According to Jose Carlos Bezanilla, Greater China CEO at global human capital consulting and research firm Great Place to Work Institute, the speed of business development in the region, coupled with aggressive career ambitions, can result in unhappy and stressed overachievers.

 “Companies need to understand the causes of stress from all fronts,” says Bezanilla, who suggests that managers and supervisors should start by finding balanced ways to maintain a healthy and positive workplace.

“Things such as a transparent payroll system, better communication or even office art can help ease stress,” says Bezanilla, noting that Hong Kong still has a lot of work to do to institute across-the-board, sustainable work-life-balance practices.