Breaking into the stress market


It exists in every office in the world. Every one of us has had it at some point and it’s perfectly natural, but stress – nature’s way of telling us that the boss is coming – is the root cause of the majority of illness and work absence faced by businesses today.
Multinational companies have, in the past, been slow to pick up on the seriousness of the problem among their workers, but not any more. Most business leaders will admit that some level of stress is good; it keeps employees on their toes and minds sharp, and helps people to focus on their tasks. But it’s a fine balance, as the worried frowns and sweaty palms of employees on the international trading floors – possibly the world’s most stressful offices – clearly show.
Work-related stress is the response people have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities – challenging their ability to cope. It’s becoming one of the biggest problems facing organisations today and is damaging to both staff and businesses. The cost of too much stress to industry within the European Union (EU) has been put at €20 billion ($28.25 billion) annually, and in the US as high as an astonishing $300 billion.
Recently, businesses were urged to develop strategies and tactics to help their employees perform better under pressure, after a study showed that coping well with stress can cut the risk of a stroke by almost a quarter. A staggering 1,000 people under the age of 30 have a stroke each year in the UK, but according to research by the University of Cambridge, those who were able to take a well-rounded approach to problems had a 24 percent lower risk.

Mental toughness
Doug Strycharczyk from AQR, one of the world’s leading developers of psychometric tests said: "The university’s findings suggest that people who are able to adapt more rapidly to stressful circumstances in their lives have a lower risk of stroke.
"Many people find that the pressures of work raise their stress levels considerably so responsible employers should assess the mental toughness of their managers and employees, then act accordingly. It could help them reduce stress and therefore reduce absence in the workplace, enhance wellbeing and cut the risk of major diseases like stroke and heart attacks."
The company has its own defintion for mental toughness: "An individual’s resilience and inner drive to succeed, particularly when they find themselves in very stressful or challenging circumstances."
AQR recently launched the world’s first occupational measure of mental toughness. By measuring four core components – control, challenge, commitment and confidence – the course provides guidelines for managers and coaches on how they can imporve the mental toughness of employees.
The results enable employers to develop strategies and tactics to help organisations and individuals to perform better under pressure – improving overall wellbeing in the workplace and, ultimately, creating a better working environment.
Mental and physical stress go hand in hand – which is where office products dealers can help. Armed with the shocking facts about absenteeism and the effects on the body, a dealer can step in and recommend solutions.
Products designed to alleviate mental stress are perhaps best left to management solutions firms like AQR. A stressful environment can be caused by the employees or relationships between employees and management – rocky ground for a salesman to step onto, as nobody likes to be told what’s wrong with their own company culture.
However, mental stress can also be countered by paying attention to the physical environment in the office. Office tools that don’t work can slow a task down and drive a busy worker over the edge. It’s a problem easily overcome by suggesting quality products for common uses. ACCO Brands recently highlighted six key trends that they believe will drive the industry over the next two years, with ergonomic tools appearing high on the list.
According to ACCO, the majority of office workers (66 percent) acknowledge that they have some physical problems as a result of job-related stress or exertion. One of the biggest saviours to aches and pains is more ergonomic and easier-to-use tools around the office, including desk chairs, staplers, paper punches, larger and adjustable computer screens, and hands-free phone devices.
The Workspace Tools unit of ACCO works with a biometric engineer to understand the physical force and motions required to use any of its tools, then looks at how to improve the mechanical operation or the design.
In many of its products, the Workspace Tools group has reduced the force required to operate them. The Swingline Optima PowerEase Stapler with patented reduced force technology reduces operating force by up to 70 percent. Three ergonomically friendly Swingline products have been honoured with the Ease-of-Use seal from the Arthritis Foundation: Speed Pro Electric, High Capacity Electric Stapler and LightTouch Heavy Duty Punch. The Arthritis Foundation’s Ease-of-Use seal recognises products that are designed to be comfortable, effective and easy for consumers to use – one less thing to worry about for the stressed employee.
Work-related stress can be caused by poor work organisation (the way we design jobs and work systems, and the way we manage them). That leaves the door open for good quality filing systems and desk tidies. Stress caused by a lack of control over work processes or poor management, can be helped by wall-mounted boards, calendars, diaries and personal organisers, all of which allow a worker to operate with autonomy.
Anyone who has sat on an uncomfortable chair knows how much resentment it can foster among staff. Good quality furniture is a clear way of reducing the stress of spending long hours in the office. More than that, it can prevent debilitating back pain from developing into something worse. Quality also makes employees feel well looked after, and promotes a caring attitude in the office.


Workplace wellbeing
In fact, looking after the wellbeing of employees is becoming more important than ever. Businesses in the UK are rapidly turning to the spa as a replacement for the once-traditional golf course as a corporate leisure incentive. With an increased awareness of living a healthy lifestyle, and the lack of spare time that people have, corporate groups are looking for something that is different, leisurely and relaxing.
Management training centre, hotel and spa Whittlebury Hall in Northamptonshire offers firms weekends to spend with experts in motivating staff, delegating requirements and also relaxation and recuperation techniques for the body.
Whittlebury Hall has recently created a new corporate programme that includes a corporate spa package aimed at refreshing and reviving delegates through a blend of luxurious spa treatments. As part of the package, experienced therapists join groups for a session of massage and meditation techniques before conferences and meetings, all designed to "remove barriers" and deliver an understanding of stress and tension-relieving techniques.


Revolutionary concept
To increase performance and productivity, businesses are being encouraged to find a better balance between activity and rest. Regular breaks during the working day are an important part of getting this balance right. Although both managers and employees know this, in a world where everything is increasingly hectic and performance-driven, it is not easy to stop and recharge. A concept designed in Norway is taking things even further. Bwell, a manufacturer of massage chairs, has launched a revolutionary concept to reduce sick leave days and save money for small companies. 
The Bwell PowerNAP concept goes one step further by creating a productive break. Instead of employees taking a break at their desk, this programme actively relaxes and refreshes them in 15 minutes without requiring any effort. While in the massage chair, users can listen to an audio programme based on the recognised relaxation technique, autogen training.
This has proven to have very beneficial health effects on the mind, and when the brain is in a good state so is the rest of the body. The chair is designed by a former Saab and Mercedes Benz designer, and developed by physical therapists in Scandinavia.
Once purchased, Bwell offers a follow-up programme over a three-year period to make sure that employees become aware of the need to use the chair on a regular basis. The programme also helps users understand how to stay healthy by using the massage chair and Bwell concept. The firm has trusted figures and data to back up the unusual idea, which clearly show that regular naps can improve performance.
Some bosses might raise eyebrows at the thought of employees taking sanctioned naps at work, but the evidence is clear – workplace stress is the scourge of businesses everywhere, and the office products industry can be the calming hand to step in with suggestions to suit all types of companies.