Editor, Safety & Health Practitioner

Author Bio ▼

Ian joined Informa (formerly UBM) in 2018 as the Editor of SHP. Ian studied journalism at university before spending seven years in online fantasy gaming. Prior to moving to Informa, Ian worked in business to business trade print media, in the automotive sector. He was Online Editor and then moved on to be the Editor of two publications aimed at independent automotive technicians and parts distributors.
April 17, 2019

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Stress

Stress at work

The HSE defines work-related stress as an adverse reaction, caused by extensive pressures or other demands placed on people during their employment, which can lead to physical or mental ill health.

work-stressAccording to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Absence Management Survey 2013 stress at work is rising, and remains one of the most common causes of long- and short-term sickness for manual and non-manual employees. Two-fifths of organisations reported an increase in stress-related absence over the previous year, rising to more than half in the public sector.

Despite its prevalence, both employees and employers can be reluctant to engage with stress at work. Employees find the topic emotionally difficult, fearing that they will be seen as unable to cope, and employers may be wary of raising issues which could create management problems. Many people confuse stress with pressure, or with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. In dealing with stress in the workplace, the Chief Medical Officer’s report for 2013 warns against employers carrying out stress audits because they risk modifying employees’ expectations, and could lead to increased reports of mental illness. Instead, the report recommends implementing measures, such as flexible working hours, which increase employees’ control.

Legal Duty on Employers

All employers have a legal responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees, which includes assessing and minimising the risk of stress-related illness or injury. Employers are responsible for action both at board level and among their employees, and failure to assess risks, put in place or implement a policy to deal with stress in the workplace may result in enforcement action by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), direct financial costs including sick pay, sickness cover or the cost of settling civil claims, and indirect costs as a result of low workplace morale or lost productivity.

Reputational and legal costs can be high: West Dorset General Hospitals NHS Trust and Liverpool Hope University were served with improvement notices in 2003 and 2009 respectively for failing to risk assess employees’ exposure to causes of work-related stress, and in 2002 a former Post Office worker was awarded damages of £93,880 plus costs after managers failed to implement measures to help him cope with a stress-related illness caused by overwork. In terms of indirect costs, the HSE’s 2013 report on Stress and Psychological Disorders shows that work-related stress caused workers in Great Britain to lose 10.4 million working days in 2011/2012, and accounted for 40% of all work-related illnesses in 2011/12, particularly among health, teaching and education professionals.

HSE Guidance

The HSE has produced extensive guidance and various tools on its website for employers and employees seeking to deal with stress at work. The guidance identifies six risk factors as influencing work-related stress:

  • The demands placed on employees
  • The control which employees have over their work
  • Whether adequate information and support is received from colleagues and superiors
  • Unacceptable behaviour such as bullying
  • How far employees understand their role and responsibilities
  • The extent to which employees are consulted and informed about organisational changes.

To help organisations carry out risk assessments on stress in the workplace, the HSE has published ‘Management Standards’ to enable employers to meet their legal obligations. Those implementing the Management Standards should follow five steps:

  1. Identifying the relevant risk factors
  2. Deciding who is at risk and how, by analysing existing data and carrying out surveys
  3. Evaluating the risks and working with employees to develop solutions
  4. Recording findings by producing and distributing an action plan, then implementing it
  5. Monitoring and reviewing any action taken.

Conclusion

Do not be stressed by stress! Dealing successfully with work-related stress requires clear leadership from employers and engagement on the part of employees, but the increasing costs of failing to deal with this difficult and emotive area mean that ignoring it is not an option. I encourage readers to look at it methodically, which can help remove the excess emotion that often parades side by side with stress management programmes.

Dealing with work-related stress requires empathy, but is essentially no different in this regard to the management of other workplace health topics. Approach it with a confident programme of communication and active worker collaboration and avoid a defensive style as it strongly suggests that an organisation has something to hide. Even consider attaching an anti-stress programme to your CSR and Sustainability programmes, which helps to promote positive messaging.

Workplace Wellbeing Show

As more businesses search for solutions, guidance and expertise surrounding the increasing challenges of workplace wellbeing and mental health, HR and wellbeing professionals will come together at the Workplace Wellbeing Show 2021, which takes place from 18-20 May at ExCeL, London.

Alongside official charity parter Mind, the Workplace Wellbeing show will being a wide-range of live content and interactive sessions on stress, mental ill-health and wellbeing.

Click here to secure your free ticket to Workplace Wellbeing Show.

Articles about work-related stress

Female employees have more health and wellbeing concerns than their male colleagues

GRiD asked 1,165 UK employees about their health and wellbeing concerns and found that female employees have more concerns about stress and anxiety relating to work, finances and living with long-term illness than their male counterparts.

Preventing work-related stress in construction

HSE has launched a ‘Talking Toolkit’, which focuses on work-related stress in construction, put together with consultation from the construction industry.

Time to change our approach to mental health

We have recently lived through a period which is challenging everyone. Our children, our workers, our elderly. It is unlikely to get better before it gets worse, as the economic fallout hits us, and we are told that the next epidemic will be anxiety.

‘Watch out for burnout!’, ex-Olympian Rebecca Adlington draws parallels between business and elite sport

Former swimmer and double Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington OBE compares burnout in the workplace to the experience of elite athletes.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In episode 2 of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

Return to Work after COVID-19: Safety managers urged to act now to prevent injuries

Workers returning to work after being furloughed are putting their bodies at risk due to no longer being at full working strength. The world is about to see the biggest return to work program ever faced.

Navigating the coronavirus pandemic: What does psychological research into wellbeing tell us?

As part of Workplace Wellbeing Digital Week last month, Workplace Wellbeing Show hosted a live and interactive webinar, with a panel consisting of Faye McGuinness, Head of Workplace Wellbeing Programmes (Strategy and Development), Mind, Jan Golding, CEO, Roots, Teresa Higgins, Brand Director, Barbour EHS and Ivan Robertson, Founding Director, Robertson Cooper Ltd. Here, SHP puts your questions to Ivan Robertson.

British Safety Council launches Live Online, a series of digital mental health workshops

The British Safety Council has launched a selection of its mental health workshops online for those looking to better address employee mental wellbeing, as workplaces across the country adjust their practices to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.

WATCH: Workplace Wellbeing Show Digital Week Webinar – ‘Workplace mental health: putting it into practice’

In this on-demand webinar, learn about navigating the coronavirus pandemic and what psychological research into wellbeing tells us.

20 things about absence and health in 20 years

After 20 years of Health and wellbeing at work surveys, the CIPD has reflected on what has changed – and what’s stayed the same – over the years…

Meet Emma, the colleague of the future

Researchers have designed what the average office-worker will look in 20 years, to physically show workers the damaging changes suboptimal offices can have on their health.

Supporting the mental health of child sexual abuse investigators

Over the past few years there has been a growing discussion around mental health in law enforcement, primarily focused on the need for law enforcement to be trained to better deal with and support members of the public with mental health issues – but what about training others to better support the police with their own mental health?

Blue Monday: ‘77% of employees consider themselves stressed at work’

iHASCO is encouraging all UK organisations to break the stigma surrounding mental ill-health with its Mental Health Awareness course.

Burnout, stress and being human

In May 2019, the World Health Organization announced that in the ICD11 (international classification of mental illnesses) there would be a new category of “burnout” as an occupational phenomenon – not a medical condition. Heather Beach discusses…

National Stress Awareness Day: Start the conversation about stress

‘Employers should use National Stress Awareness Day as an opportunity to start the conversation about stress in the workplace and enable their workforce achieve a happier and more productive mindset.’

Wellbeing: Director’s Briefing

Wellbeing is a state of being happy and healthy in our bodies (physically) and in our minds (mentally). Mental Health is defined as a state of wellbeing in which an individual can cope with the normal stresses of life and can work productively.

World Mental Health Day: Prevention is the best cure

British Safety Council has urged employers to safeguard employee mental health and invest in workplace wellbeing.

How biophilic design can transform workspaces forever

Biophilic office designs introduces more natural light and incorporates live plants into a space, natural matrial like wood to increase workplace wellbeing.

Hot desking advantages and disadvantages

The nervousness around the hot desking trend has led people to question the advantages and disadvantages of it as “hot desk anxiety” is popular search term.

How to stop drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace

Samantha Francis, Training Consultant at SYNLAB, explains the current trends within illegal drug use, and what businesses need to do to prevent it.

Cigna creates campaign to minimise workplace stress

British employers are encouraged to take an active role in spotting stress in their employees, as it could help prevent early signs of mental health issues.

Get your free ticket to Workplace Wellbeing Show

Search for solutions, guidance and expertise surrounding the critical issue of mental and physical health in the workplace, and join HR and wellbeing professionals at Workplace Wellbeing Show, taking place from 18–20 May 2021 at ExCeL, London.

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Phil Pinnington
Phil Pinnington
5 years ago

Stress indicators are certainly a step in the right direction and stress survey’s provide some context we still have no reasonable benchmarks to work with.
The HSE toolkit uses comparable data from 2009 and it’s based on the manufacturing sector. Given the changes in the working environment post banking crash we really need some credible benchmarking from the service sector to help managers prioritise actions more effectively.

Ann McCracken
Ann McCracken
5 years ago

My current understanding of benchmarking from the HSE is that they now require us to do our own – in other words – compare with your last one(s) and set realistic improvements.

The original HSE benchmarks were from the “willing 100” companies who took part in the development of the original Risk Assessment tool but it was not a good benchmark as they were mostly large Corporate organisations.
At least self benchmarking can take into account culture and current innovations, takeovers etc if Management is honest and brave enough to look that deep.

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