Stress is a curious thing.
On one hand, it can be a sign of a positively productive period but it can also be a signal that something is not quite right—that there is a lack of support, that there is too much work and too little time, or simply that the job isn’t enjoyable anymore.
Stress is linked not only to mental fatigue but also to wider health complaints, with potentially serious consequences. From a workplace perspective, seriously stressed employees will often have difficulty thinking, concentrating and making decisions, often resulting in less than ideal work. In addition, highly stressed staff find it difficult to contribute to a positive atmosphere. Research has found that Singapore residents have the second longest work week in developed cities globally, clocking in 45.6 hours, but such long hours and negative culture of presenteeism seldom coincide with high levels of productivity.
The growth in performance of an organisation is a by-product of people doing good work—and employees battling unhealthy levels of stress are unlikely to contribute to that. In other words, finding ways to reduce unhealthy stress should be a priority for all businesses, but just how can that be achieved? I give the example of focusing on HR as a core function in delivering the company’s overall well-being.
Understanding the pain points
Stress is often caused by a complex mixture of company culture, workload and external factors, not all of which will be under the HR department’s control. As a result, understanding what the root causes are is often not straightforward. While the tried-and-tested combination of grapevine and guesswork can work, there is a better way.
As with most areas of business, analytics is starting to play an increasingly valuable role in improving people management and stress reduction in the workplace. Companies are starting to recognise the value that HR analytics—or ‘people science’—can have on their office culture, providing actionable insights on common pain points, complaints and shortfalls that can be used to drive change. If you can use analytics to improve your relationships with your customers, why not do the same thing for your staff?
This is also proving to be profitable for the business as a whole - McKinsey Global Institute estimates that companies using a portfolio of HR-analytics solutions could realize an increase of 275 basis points in profit margins, on average, by 2025.
People science enables companies to get a deeper understanding of their employee’s behavior to drive more effective management and a more targeted approach to dealing with issues before they become serious. Despite the value on offer, implementing an effective people science project is easier said than done. According to a research titled ‘Becoming A People Company’ conducted by Sage, although 83 per cent of HR leaders believe their people decisions should be based on analytics, 92 per cent of companies struggle to get the strategic insight they need. Additionally, just slightly more than a third (37 percent) are actually using data analytics at present, and fewer than half of companies can get access to same-day metrics like performance levels, time-to-hire or flight risks. This data is based on insights collected from more than 500.
Get to know one another
The key to making data work for you is in having the ability to transform it into information that can help in making critical business decisions about the workforce, and in this case, the ability to predict issues before they arise. Advanced analytics can identify the signs of burnout and stress early, helping team leaders to understand what’s happening across the business with more clarity and take appropriate action as a result.
For example, if an employee is regularly sending emails after 7 p.m. and logging on before 8 a.m., the system could flag up a likely case of work-related stress. This provides an opportunity for everyone involved to be aware of the situation, and to address it before it becomes an issue – after all, this could just be a temporary blip. However, analytics provide a predictive capability that helps businesses avoid stress becoming burnout, to the benefit of the business as well as the employee.
It’s an old adage that companies provide employees with healthcare, pastoral support and other benefits for the sake of the business – but rather than picking up the pieces after an avoidable crisis, companies should use people science to be smarter about prevention. To that end, technology can be an enabler as it enhances human performance. By implementing an intelligent system that visualises insights from across the business in a user-friendly way can also help businesses identify skills gaps, as well as measure the effectiveness of training initiatives. For example, businesses will be able to better ascertain if training investments are driving better performance, and whether employees are capitalising on the training and development opportunities offered to them.
Knowing your workforce is a key part of good management. People are often the key to business success – and they’re also core to its spirit and culture. Innovative techniques like people science are the next stage of good employee support, providing the insight companies need to truly know what’s going on amongst your staff, who’s performing well and who’s suffering from stress. While there is clearly an understanding of the potential benefits, a few dots still need to be joined when it comes to making the vision a reality.
Nevertheless, the effort is well worth it. Invest in people science to invest in your people – they’re worth the best. Know your people, drive your business!