Small Talk: It's vital firms take steps to defuse the stress time bomb

David Prosser feels it's time to thaw your business relationships
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The Independent Online

Is your workforce too stressed to perform to the best of its abilities, or even to make it into the office day in, day out? If so, you're not alone – new research suggests employee stress is a serious problem at a significant and rising number of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Of 500 decision-makers at UK SMEs polled by Zurich Insurance in the past month, 42 per cent said employee stress had had a noticeable impact on the business over the past year. One in three said stress-related issues such as low staff morale and increased employee absences were continuing to have a negative effect on the overall performance of their business.

A fifth of SMEs said the number of their stress-related employee absences had risen over the past two years and 25 per cent said staff morale had deteriorated because of more stress at work.

"These figures are strong evidence that tackling workforce challenges and risks is an essential part of achieving better performance and greater growth for small businesses," says Richard Coleman, director of SME at Zurich Insurance. "It is perhaps not surprising that the fragile business climate has had such an impact on workforce stress and morale but if these issues aren't solved, they could have serious long-term consequences."

But how do employers tackle stress? The challenge is all the more difficult during periods such as now when the economic environment of low growth has left many SMEs fearing for their future, and with little choice but to bear down on margin pressures through cost-cutting programmes – exactly the sort of thing that can exacerbate stress among staff.

The key is to understand why staff are feeling stressed, and then identify actions which might alleviate the symptoms. Acas, the conciliation service, suggests that stress has six main causes, and that each might require different responses.

Demands Employees who feel they have too much work to cope with are much more likely to become stressed. Employers will need to ensure their staff understand what work needs doing but also that they know how to do it. An investment in training could be required, for example;

Control Employees who feel they have no say in how and when they do their work are more likely to become stressed, says Acas. Employers need to work harder to involve employees in how they carry out key tasks and to consult staff before making decisions;

Support Employees who don't feel able to discuss problems with managers become stressed much quicker. Giving employees that opportunity is crucial but managers must be supportive and sympathetic;

Relationships Building good relationships with staff is an important part of running a business that has employees. Put clear procedures in place around performance and grievances, and crack down hard on bullying;

Role Employees who don't understand what is expected of them will be prone to stress. Employers should tackle this when staff are inducted, but all staff should have written job descriptions. Performance reviews are an opportunity to develop such descriptions and to set objectives;

Change Business change is a major cause of employee stress. The key is for employers to plan ahead so that all staff can be given plenty of notice of changes to come.

Mobile data security firm wins deal with US distributor

The mobile software specialist Globo will today dial up a spot in the AIM 100 index.

The company, which sells software to allow people to use secure data on their mobile devices, has signed a deal with US-based Ingram Micro, the world's largest mobile tech distributor, which will distribute its new product GO!Enterprise, launched last month at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The software for businesses allows employees to access secure information such as corporate data and files on any mobile device and across any network. The idea is that the software saves small companies from having to issue BlackBerries or approved devices to employees. With the Globo software, employees can use their own mobiles in a secure way.

Globo, which listed in 2007 and has a £146m market capitalisation, will open an office in the City this year.

The broker RBC Capital raised its forecasts after the GO!Enterprise deal with Ingram. It rates the shares a buy at 60p, and believes the shares "remain significantly undervalued by the market".

Once it enters the FTSE AIM 100 it will also be on the reserve list to enter the top 50, giving it more exposure to investors.

Laura Chesters

Small Businessman of the Week: Dom Gaynor, 33, managing director, TeamSport

I joined TeamSport, an indoor go-karting company, briefly after university in 2002, in a sales role, before backpacking around the world and working in Australia. I came back in 2004, this time reporting to owner Paul Wrightman, and got involved in the operations side. In 2009 I was made the only other director and have just led a £9m management buyout.

"The corporate market opened up a rich seam of teambuilding events. People used to have low expectations of go-karting. But I've worked hard at improving our product and investing in our staff, and we've got vastly improved facilities, offering weather-proof thrills of 40mph races all year round. People are happy to pay for a premium product even in a slow economy. When people walk in you see their jaws drop – it's not what they expect.

"Business has been stratospheric – we're Europe's number one operator of indoor go-kart tracks, with nine circuits. We now have 300 employees and are committed to excellent staff training, which have seen track marshals rise through the ranks to become mechanics and even track managers.

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