Stress and sexual health: how HR can reduce the impact of stress on employees’ sex lives


Are the sex lives of employees the concern of HR? Surprisingly, some experts think the answer is yes.


This may sound like the ultimate invasion of privacy. We already nag UK staff about quitting smoking and joining the workplace gym – surely they should be allowed to go home and enjoy themselves in peace?


Apparently not. There is a growing body of evidence that workplace stress affects sexual health, which in turn makes employees even more stressed and unproductive.


Under pressure


The problem is at its height in the US, where doctors report that a failure to switch off from work is putting pressure on patients’ sexual relationships. One female patient asked her doctor if it was normal for her husband to put his Blackberry on the pillow while they made love.


Workers in the UK also report that stress is taking its toll in the bedroom. In a survey carried out for the Health and Safety Executive by the University of Bristol, the more stressed the respondents were, the more they complained of family commitments ‘distracting’ them from focusing on their job and spending time with their partners. This is the vicious circle – problems at home make staff more stressed at work, and workplace stress makes home life a chore.


It doesn’t take much for this to develop into an established sexual problem, says Dr Peter Mills, clinical health officer at workplace health consultancy Vielife.


“Worries about sexual health can have a major impact on how people approach their work,” he says. “Most people who display significant levels of stress are affected on both fronts – by their home life and by the situation at work.”


There is also a more long-term issue to consider. Women put off having children until they have reached a certain point in their careers, then find it hard to conceive (usually from mid-30s onwards), creating a different but equally frustrating source of sex-related stress.


Fertility problems


Couples who face problems conceiving often embark on a course of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments. Non-NHS IVF costs between £3,000 and £5,000 per treatment cycle, and with a success rate of less than 30%, many couples pursue several cycles. Finding the money to fund this means staff feel compelled to work harder, and longer hours and bigger workloads inevitably lead to more stress.


Complex area


It is clearly a complex area, and experts believe that more research is needed to assess what the implications are for employers.


Sara Cox, senior lecturer in health psychology at the Institute of Work, Health & Organisations at the University of Nottingham, says: “Although there is substantive literature on the impact of work on sexual and reproductive health, it is incomplete in its coverage.”


Cox and her colleagues have developed a model for looking at stress and sexual health, which looks at workplace and job design, variations in the needs of employees in relation to sexual health, and the cost to employers. They aim to compile much more detailed information about this area.


So what can, or should, HR do to stem the negative impact of stress on employees’ sex lives?


There is no need to make special provision for people’s sex lives, but establishing flexible working practices and a healthy culture will benefit employees in all aspects of their lives.


Mills says: “Try to encourage employees to take control of their time – working late only one or two days a week, for instance, or taking work home at the weekend once a month – but not every week.”


Better news still is that creating a more ‘satisfied’ workforce will reap benefits for you as an employer. Another piece of UK research has found that sex actually reduces stress.


Less stress


Psychologists at the University of Paisley surveyed 50 men and women on their stress levels by testing their blood pressure after public speaking. The participants who had recently had sexual intercourse were the least stressed, and the de-stressing benefits lasted for at least a week.


So while we are not suggesting that you literally get into bed with your staff, boosting their libido by reducing stress could pay off in the long run.


Any organisation willing to help with Sara Cox’s research into stress and sexual health should e-mail her at sara.cox@nottingham.ac.uk



 





 

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