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Stress and its Effect on Performance

17 August 2021

The Olympics are over, the medals have been won and lost, leaving us all with vivid memories of both triumphs and disasters. My most lasting memory of Tokyo 2020 will be the brave and commendable actions of gymnastics’ superstar Simone Biles. As you know, Simone withdrew from multiple events, citing that she needed to take a step back from performing to protect her mental health.  Most of us will never achieve her level of performance, but it is not uncommon for us to experience high-stress levels. Stress can negatively affect humans, impacting our cognition, emotions, bodies, and behaviour. These effects can be catastrophic, leading to long-term physical and mental health issues, a reduction in work performance, and total burnout.

Recent statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that work-related stress depression and anxiety is the most common cause of work-related ill-health. Current figures show that around 828,000 people have been off work, resulting in approximately 17.9m working days lost during 2019/20.  Those who think that stress is new or modern phenomenon would be mistaken. As far back as the mid to late 1800’s Victorian’s such as James Crichton Browne and Benjamin Ward Richardson were highly concerned about the rise in serious mental health issues brought on by or made worse by stress. In those days, the increase of technology, such as electric lighting and the invention of the telegram, significantly increased working hours, resulting in industries such as banking receiving information from all around the world 24hrs a day. Nowadays our ability to switch off from work has also reduced, working from home means more and more of us are struggling to recognise the line between home and work life.

We often think of stress as a personal thing only affecting an individual, but research by Tony Buchanan, Ph.D and others has led experts to assert that stress is contagious. We can all remember how we have felt when spending time in the presence of a person who was obviously stressed.  Neuroscientists Laurie Santos, Ph.D has studied this contagion and found that simply observing a stressed person raises our heart rate and increases cortisol in our bodies.

Many organisations have trained staff on building resilience or reducing the impact of stress, but how many have failed to adequately risk-assess and manage the causes of work-related stress. As with other work-related hazards such as machinery, vehicles and manual handling recognising workplace stressors and managing the risk is also a requirement of UK H&S law. The HSE advises us to adopt a ‘management standards’ approach. But for many, the advice can be challenging to implement. Because of this, Ouch has designed a new 1-day course for leaders, H&S and HR professionals, and a 1/2day session for line managers and supervisors.

We are looking forward to helping our delegates get to grips with the HSE guidance and achieving a solid base from which to implement the standards in their organisation.

Our first 1-day course happens this week, and we are excited to be to working with representatives from Dorset Wildlife Trust, Eco Sustainable Solutions, and Reid Steel. Steve Davis from DWT has kindly offered us the use of one of their beautiful venues called ‘Happy Bottom’. So its fingers crossed that we will have a dry and warm day so that we can do lots of group work outside in the fantastic Dorset countryside.

Please get in touch if you want to know more about how Ouch can help your organisation develop its approach to stress management.