Chronic stress is a growing concern for organisations across the globe.

A recently-published policy by ACAS, ‘Stress and anxiety at work; personal or cultural?’, highlights significant amounts of workplace stress being reported by employees.

Two-thirds of respondents (66%) have felt stressed and/or anxious about work in the last 12 months, with particular variation by age – 76% for those under the age of 35, compared to 54% for those aged 55 and over.

Research by the CIPD ‘Health and Wellbeing at Work’ reports that mental ill health is increasingly prevalent as a cause of both short- and long-term absence. Along with stress, musculoskeletal injuries and acute medical conditions, it remains most commonly responsible for long-term absence.

The serious impact of stress-related conditions has even prompted the World Health Organisation to officially recognise burnout as a legitimate medical diagnosis as of 2020, adding it to the International Classification of Diseases.

With these statistics painting an alarming picture of increasing stress levels in the workplace, it’s crucial to understand what the physical impact on individuals looks like.

What is the Physical Impact of Stress?

The physical impact of stress, both short and long term, can be serious.

We define stress as a physiological response to an external or internal stimulus. This can be physical, emotional, societal or psychological.

Stress in and of itself isn’t inherently bad - in the right situation, it can even be preservative, for example, realising that a car is driving towards you at speed while crossing a road. However, these types of stimulus are designed to be useful in short, relevant bursts.

Experiencing stress on a daily basis over a prolonged period of time is a different matter.

Physical impact of stress

Persistent stress has been linked to immune disorders, hypertension and stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Stress can trigger:

  • Increase in heart rate.
  • Increase in blood pressure.
  • Vascular changes which can cause cardiac arrhythmias and potentially subsequent myocardial infarction.

The Organisational Cost

The cost to businesses and even society at large of these physical responses are real and quantifiable.

The New Economics Foundation analysing hospital admission data from 2016/​2017 discovered that there were 17,500 episodes where stress or anxiety was the primary cause for hospital admission. This led to 165,800 days where beds were occupied due to stress or anxiety, at a cost to the taxpayer of £71.1 million.

526,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/​17 leading to 12.5 million working days lost.

These levels of absenteeism can directly impact an organisation’s productivity, as well as representing a significant loss to the economy as a whole.

Impact of stress infographic

Could ECG Biometrics Help Businesses Mitigate Stress?

Clever applications of technology could be key to managing workplace stress, helping provide insights about employee stress levels and its impact on individuals and groups over time.

Measuring and tracking stress levels could provide both employees and organisations with vital insight into key times or situations where stress levels are affected to allow for a deeper
understanding about any associated impact on performance or productivity.

This allows for informed changes to be made to existing, or new, workplace policies and procedures.

ECG biometrics is one option emerging as a powerful tool to mitigate stress.

Analysing each individual’s baseline stress level and monitoring it over time could give us crucial information into that individual’s physical state over time. Compiling this trending data can lead to insights about understanding potential causes of stress for individuals, or groups so that they can be addressed.

Physical impact of stress

HeartKey

At B-Secur, we’ve developed the HeartKey stress algorithm to allow stress levels to be monitored from the human heartbeat.

HeartKey delivers key trending data to individuals, their organisations or to be shared with healthcare providers to adjust their environment, behaviour or to make significant life changes in order to improve their health and well-being.

About HeartKey

Next: In the next article in our Managing Stress series, we’ll be looking at how VR and immersive technologies are being used to help organisations manage stress - sign up to our mailing list to keep up.

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