Workplace stress is an increasingly widespread problem. The 2018 UK Workplace Stress Survey reveals that only 9% of us say we never experience workplace stress, while one in five UK workers say they experience moderate to high levels of stress caused by work multiple times per week.
This stress manifests itself in a number of ways. The survey reveals sleep loss, anxiety, disrupted concentration, comfort eating and a decline in productivity to be the most prevalent effects of workplace stress - detrimental not only to employees’ health and wellbeing, but to business performance, too.
Poor mental health accounts for the loss of 15 million working days per year - costing the UK economy an estimated £94 billion. It’s a costly problem for businesses, which is why so many are now working to introduce workplace wellbeing schemes that aim to keep employees both physically and mentally happy, healthy and productive - benefiting both the companies themselves and the people who work there.
But how can you establish where this support is most needed, especially when mental health remains a topic that many feel uncomfortable talking about? The answer could lie in cortisol testing - a tool that is newly available here at Cansford Labs.
What does cortisol have to do with stress?
Cortisol is a hormone that regulates a huge number of processes within the human body, including metabolism and blood sugar levels, and it is also a potent anti-inflammatory. It’s most well known, however, for being the body’s primary stress hormone, working with the brain to control our fear, mood and motivation.
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Produced by the adrenal glands, cortisol is released into the bloodstream, with the amount released depending on signals from the brain. The body’s cortisol needs will vary depending on the time of day and on your current situation, with cortisol able to shut down certain other functions - including those of the immune system, the reproductive system and the digestive system - to enable the body’s “fight or flight” mechanism to kick in.
Increased stress levels, therefore, are evidenced by increased levels of cortisol. And these levels can be detected via hair testing.
Measuring stress through hair testing
In a bid to aid employers in their efforts to support their workers, we've developed, and refined, a hair test that measures levels of cortisol in the body. This can be an important indicator of stress in humans and animals. It could form part of an employee well being programme for instance.
While cortisol levels can also be detected in oral fluid, blood and urine, hair testing offers multiple benefits. By using hair, we can gain a longer-term view of an individual’s stress levels, with just one centimetre of hair able to show average cortisol levels over the previous month.
Hair testing will also reflect the presence of cortisol in the body even when it is being supplemented - and can be used in a variety of circumstances where it may be tricky or impractical to collect a blood, urine or oral fluid sample.
Cortisol tests have already proved their worth in other settings. Humans are not the only animals that produce the hormone in reaction to stress. Here in the UK, cortisol testing has demonstrated its value in the farming sector, with such tests being used both to monitor the welfare of pigs, and to ensure that stress levels are kept low in dairy cattle to keep milk production high.
Eliminating the problems caused by workplace stress
We’re excited about the prospect of introducing hair cortisol tests to UK workplaces. Creating a way for employers to measure and monitor employees’ stress levels could form an important part of managing wellbeing in the workplace in the years to come - avoiding burnout, reducing hours lost due to employee stress, and working to get those affected the help they need.
With workplace stress an increasingly problematic issue in the UK, employers who can demonstrate that they genuinely care about their workers’ wellbeing will find themselves reaping the rewards in terms of attracting talent, productivity, staff loyalty and retention and much more.
Testing for workplace stress can be an important part of an overall workplace wellbeing policy, designed to keep workers happy and healthy and your business running smoothly. To find out how drug testing can also play a part, click here.
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