Customer facing, service industry professions, such as waitressing and nursing, are amongst the most stressful jobs and the most damaging to health, according to a recent study by Chinese scientists. Doctors and teachers are often thought to have stressful jobs, but control and respect in their role make them feel more positive at work. Job related stress therefore seems to be largely dependent on how empowered the role makes you feel. Service industry workers, on the other hand, feel vulnerable to the emotions and reactions of their customers.
Often customers can vent anger and frustration at service staff: mostly through verbal abuse, but sometimes situations can become threatening and aggressive. Exposure to physical violence is believed to have a strong impact on physical and mental health. Even witnessing aggression at work can be detrimental to an employee’s health. The fear of customer volatility is a huge contributor to work related stress, especially when adequate security measures are not being taken.
Failing to adequately protect staff and exposing them to the threat of physical violence and abuse puts the emotional wellbeing and mental health of staff at risk, but it can also be detrimental to the organisation’s bottom line and can damage reputation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that workplace injury and illness, including stress, cost the UK over £14 billion in 2013-14. However, this figure does not take into account the emotional expense and health risks to the victims of aggressive behaviour. Migraines, ulcers, heart disease, cancer, and mental illness are just some of the effects of stress caused by poor wellbeing at work.
The cause of work related stress can come from employers taking a short sighted view of the wellbeing of their employees, often following statutory health and safety laws but failing to realise that work plays an intrinsic part in people’s lives. It is not just about meeting the legal requirements when it comes to the health and safety of staff, it is also about the duty of care employers have for their wellbeing, ensuring that they feel safe and that work does not impact on their personal lives.
To avoid stress, and the subsequent health risks, staff need employers to take a strategic view and proactive measures to support wellbeing in the workplace. The first step towards this is to facilitate communication between staff, as this will make it easier to identify where improvements can be made. People who have social support from their co-workers and managers are more positive at work.
Stress caused from exposure to abusive behaviour and the threat of physical violence can be reduced by prioritising staff safety and putting measures in place to strengthen security, especially in customer facing roles. Employers are urged to investigate the technology available on the market that can make staff feel safer by improving communication, ensuring support is immediately on hand, give more instant access to the emergency services, and even prevent aggressive situations arising in the first place.
Written by Dave Whittle, Positive Response CEO.