Pressure points drive stress response

16/11/2015 - 10:10

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SPECIAL REPORT: The financial pressures facing many Western Australian businesses are being compounded by significant levels of worker stress, sick leave and absenteeism, a local consultancy has found.

Pressure points drive stress response
GROWING CONCERN: Danielle McNamee has seen a big increase in clients seeking help with managing underperformance and redundancies. Photo: Attila Csaszar

When times are tough, many companies look to reduce staff, and how this process is handled can have big ramifications on the business.

The financial pressures facing many Western Australian businesses are being compounded by significant levels of worker stress, sick leave and absenteeism, a local consultancy has found.

And it seems at least some of this workplace malady has been fostered by poorly executed attempts to manage staff performance.

Danielle McNamee, the director of Processworx, a consultancy providing human resources and occupational health and safety services to SMEs in WA, told Business News many employers weren’t always handling interactions with employees appropriately.

“Businesses are looking more carefully at employees’ productivity than when it was boom times,” Ms McNamee said.

“A couple of years ago, if someone wasn’t performing, employers would put up with it for fear of losing the employee. That’s just not a reality now.”

She said at least one-third of the company’s SME clients had been cutting costs through redundancies, with a further 25 per cent of businesses asking for help with costly and escalating situations related to the performance management process employees were required to undertake.

“We see a lot of incidences where perhaps the owners or managers of the businesses haven’t complied with Fair Work (Commission requirements), but it’s not because they’re trying to be mean or horrible,” she said.

“Employers are super stressed themselves. Owners are taking reduced drawings, they’re looking at making people redundant; things are really hard out there.

“That stress flows on.”

Melbourne-based Leading Teams recently appointed its second WA partner, Serena Easton, in response to increased demand from WA companies seeking help to enhance culture and improve business performance.

Ms Easton told Business News while clients normally engaged Leading Teams to help with processes following downsizing, mergers, acquisitions or joint venture deals, the common theme was dealing with high stress levels.

She said leaders trying to manage workforce reductions often erroneously took their focus off remaining staff.

When bosses did not invest time in building genuine relationships with staff they often baulked at sudden requests to do more, she said.

This often led to a lack of understanding about why staff reacted negatively.

“It’s because the relationship isn’t there,” Ms Easton said.

“When there’s this expectation to pick up extra work and do extra hours (employees perceive) a mentality of ‘be grateful that you’ve got a job because you could be next’.”

Ms McNamee said that, when appropriately utilised, performance management tools could address issues of staff morale and negative behaviour.

She said the aim was to improve behaviour and output, rather than fire staff, which she said often compounded low staff morale and could lead to costly consequences.

Ms McNamee said companies needed to be proactive, build relationships, communicate openly and implement policies and codes of conduct that clearly defined expectations and consequences.

“People are worried about losing their job and often think they are being performance managed in order to push them out. They panic,” she said.

“Often what we see is someone has not been performing well for a long period of time and all of a sudden the employer has had enough, but the employer has never given them any feedback ... and as soon as the performance management takes place, they go on stress leave.”

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