Humans by nature like to be in control. It’s a behaviour that kept us alive from our earliest pre-history. So when there’s a lack of it, it can trigger anger or anxiety.
Our immediate response is to engage the fight or flight response.
This is helpful in short bursts when fighting wolves or running from bears but it also leads to an increase in adrenaline, blood pressure and heart rate, which can be destructive if sustained.
In the worst cases, it can lead to stomach disorders, back pain, musculoskeletal problems, headaches, skin problems, loss of sleep and energy, and emotional distress.
Workplace stressors are recognised today as a key contributor in 75 per cent to 90 per cent of all GP visits and, according to the Health and Safety Executive, it is estimated that, in 2018/2019, 12.8 million working days were lost in the UK due to poor mental health. The cost to a business's bottom line is just as stark, estimated by two separate studies for US businesses, at between $150 billion and $300 billion per year.
At the root of this is a universal human need for responsibility and freedom. In bureaucratic organisations, only those people with control - managers - have the ability to, partially at least, escape from procedures. Those employees at the bottom of the hierarchy have their need for control over their tasks denied.
Stress levels go down when you give people real control over their work and don’t suffocate them with stifling micromanagement. Engagement, in turn, goes up and the costs of both absenteeism and presenteeism go down (the latter of which can lead to reduced productivity and staff who are prone to mistakes and chronically tired).
This can be hard to accomplish in traditional command-and-control companies. But one way leaders are already achieving this is through ‘corporate liberation’.
A liberated company is one in which employees are given the freedom - and responsibility - to take actions that they believe are best for the company. They share a few common traits: Employees enjoy much more flexible working hours, there are many fewer layers of responsibility - and no such thing as director-only parking.
Their culture is built on trust and gives employees the freedom to carry out their responsibilities within a guiding framework of wider corporate values. There are hundreds of such companies of all types and sizes in Europe, including in the UK.
Since employees are willing to get up in the morning, go to work and give their best, liberated companies are outperforming old-style competition. Fulfilled employees are not only costing less, they are the key to outstanding performance.
Put differently, freeing a company’s people to act not only eliminates the burden of stress-related sickness costs - it also dramatically boosts its innovation and organic growth.
Isaac Getz is Professor at ESCP Business School Paris/London, author of Freedom, Inc. and Leadership Without Ego. His forthcoming book is The Altruistic Corporation.
Image credit: Archive Photos / Stringer via Getty Images