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.
According 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.
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:
- Identifying the relevant risk factors
- Deciding who is at risk and how, by analysing existing data and carrying out surveys
- Evaluating the risks and working with employees to develop solutions
- Recording findings by producing and distributing an action plan, then implementing it
- Monitoring and reviewing any action taken.
Work-related stress is defined as “a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands in the workplace”.
Workplace mental health issues are often associated with stress. Exposure to high levels of stress at work can cause emotional symptoms such as depression, tearfulness, withdrawal, mood swings, loss of motivation or concentration and behavioural changes such as smoking, drinking, drugs, changes to eating or sleeping habits and nervous behaviour.
Poor employee mental health arising from stress can cost your business time and money in lost productivity and sickness absence.
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.
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
‘40% of remote rotational workers experience suicidal thoughts some or all of the time’
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on remote rotational workers has been revealed in a new global study by the International SOS Foundation and Affinity Health at Work.
Tools to prevent, reduce and manage stress in the workplace
HSE says there are six key factors which, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates and urges employers to review the stress-causing factors in their workplaces and the work that their employees do.
Employee wellbeing: Shifting the focus on employee benefits in a pandemic
The Guardian recently published a special feature on employee wellbeing, in collaboration with the Workplace Wellbeing Show. Download it now…
Work-related stress and the wellbeing of frontline workers
In episode 9 of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Peter Kelly, Senior Psychologist for the HSE about work-related stress and Inspector Phil Spencer, Blue Light Programme Co-ordinator at Cleveland Police, discusses the stress of working on the frontline during the pandemic.
How technology can help boost workplace wellbeing
Sue Horsfall, HR Director, Agilitas, explores how the shift to home working will have an effect on mental health and how, if tackled correctly, the benefits could be long lasting. She also shares her insight into how to innovate and trust in technology, which could result in a better world for mental health, both inside and outside the workplace, in years to come.
5 safety risks to map in 2021
DuPont Sustainable Solutions has surveyed organisations across a range of industries in Europe, interviewed safety leaders who successfully navigated the crisis and compiled a country-by-country analysis of the safety outlook. The findings, published in a comprehensive report, identify where organisations’ safety efforts most commonly succeed and where they fail.
Why work-related stress is getting critical. And what to do about it
Work-related stress is on the increase, but how do you strike a balance between prevention and paternalism? In this ‘how to’ style piece, Carl Laidler, Director of Wellbeing at Health Shield, focuses on how OH, Risk and HR can better work together.
Working from home and loneliness: Tips on supporting staff that may be feeling lonely
Pablo Vandenabeele Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa shares his top tips on how to spot signs of loneliness in your team when you’re an employer or manager, along with advice on how to support your team if they’re struggling.
Supporting yourself and your team during coronavirus
Dane Krambergar, Head of Workplace Wellbeing Services at mental health charity Mind, explores how employers can address mental health and wellbeing in the workplace as many of us continue to work remotely and how e-learning can benefit you further.
Government publishes guide to staying mentally well this winter
The government’s ‘Staying mentally well this winter’ plan sets out the support that will be in place in the immediate term to help mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on people’s mental health and wellbeing this winter.
Stress Awareness Day: 10 tips for working from home
As England heads into a second national lockdown, ISMA’s Carole Spiers provides some helpful guidance for working at home during this stressful time.
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 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…
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 12-14 July 2021 at ExCeL, London.