- Rebekah Haymes
Striking the balance between pressure and challenge can be a fine art and nothing truer could be said of the recruitment industry.
Although not unique to the industry, the high-pressure, performance-centric environment, coupled with the burden of financial reward and demanding hours, can accelerate the rate of staff turnover and cements recruitment’s reputation as one of the most stressful career choices.
And the struggle to recruit within recruitment has long been a bone of contention.
Some industry chiefs cite wrong ‘DNA’ for disillusioned consultants leaving the industry, while others put it down to a lack of support, understanding and development. But with recruitment boasting of expertise in finding the ‘best of the best’ in any given field, it is somewhat ironic that retention is such an issue internally.
Going with the argument that employees have the capabilities, but are ill-equipped to deal with the unrelenting pressures and competitive nature of the job, what can employers do to cultivate a productive and loyal workforce? There is fundamental recognition that wellness supports sustainable engagement and that a healthy employee is a productive employee.
This assertion has even been endorsed by the Government. In its report Does Workplace Wellbeing Affect Workplace Performance, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills tells of “a prima facie case for employers to consider investing in the wellbeing of their employees on the basis of the likely performance benefits”. Therefore, the retention of highly skilled recruiters through the promotion of good mental health and wellness should be of upmost importance to employers.
The assertion has been further supported by Willis Towers Watson’s research. Its Global Workforce Study has revealed employers that invest in supporting employee health and confidence in their financial well-being achieve a substantial return for stakeholders. Indeed, where it has been possible to successfully measure, the ROI tied to employee productivity, talent management and public image can be between two and four times higher for these organisations.
Companies that look to drive productivity improvements by increasing workloads and by putting staff under pressure to work longer hours can, ironically, achieve the opposite by creating higher levels of workplace stress, increased incidents of stress-related absence and reduced employee energy levels.
And the impact of stress and poor mental health on an organisation should not be underestimated.
According to Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development’s (CIPD’s) Absence Management Survey 2016, stress is now the most common cause of long-term absence and ranks the second most common cause of short-term absence after minor illness. More than half of organisations include stress among their five most common causes of long-term absence (53%), followed closely by mental ill health at 49%. And almost half (47%) claimed stress was among the five most common causes of short-term absence and over a third (34%) cited mental ill health, such as anxiety or depression.
Heavy workloads, long hours that threaten work/life balance and pressure to meet targets are among the key triggers for stress – factors that could argued be are the norm within the recruitment industry.
But despite stress and mental illness accounting for a large portion of short- and long-term absence, just over a quarter (28%) of organisations report they attempt to manage short-term absence through a focus on health and well-being, 32% through health promotion and 18% through specific well-being benefits targeted at preventing the causes of absence.
Employers should not only be looking at how they can support their staff in case of stress or mental ill health, but should also be looking to implement preventative measures and the appropriate culture to ensure issues are identified and tackled before they develop.
Creating an open-door environment will help improve the manager–recruiter relationship, allowing employees to be more communicative and raise concerns before work-related stress takes hold, helping stave off stress-related conditions, and in turn, long-term sickness absence or resignation. Training line managers to be better equipped to support their teams has been a key focus for many employers.
A shift in culture must also be accompanied by a more proactive approach to treatment that provides staff with access to continuous support and encourages a general focus on well-being. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), for example, are cost-effective benefits that provide employees with access to 24/7 telephone helplines and trained counsellors.
We are seeing an increasing trend for technology-based resilience training to support employees with the challenges of their working lives. But it is imperative to establish a proper reporting structure for absence related to stress or mental health issues in order to develop a better picture of the problem. Good data is crucial in identifying areas where problems are most acute and developing appropriate solutions, so it is important to establish a uniform standard for reporting.
According to Willis Towers Watson’s Staying@Work Survey, a third (33%) of UK employers cited a lack of actionable data as being a significant obstacle to bringing about behavioural changes among employees. Without such data to underpin well-defined goals, it will invariably become difficult to obtain leadership support, to set budgets and to obtain the necessary resources for a successful wellness strategy.
Time and resource demands on employers may call for a specialist consultancy to help facilitate this process, to advise on the most appropriate approach and to help establish a sustained wellness roadmap.
This approach not only strengthens the well-being of the workforce by identifying and anticipating trends, but also eases the financial implications of stress-related absences, as well as strengthening the employer’s position as an attractive choice within a highly competitive industry.
Rebekah Haymes is Health and Benefits Senior Consultant at Willis Towers Watson