Workplace stress

Pressure can be good for us – positive pressure can make us energised and alert. But overwhelming or negative stress can makes us feel out of control, nervous and anxious. That’s when problems begin. Stress is not an illness, but biological responses to stress can cause both physical and mental stress-related illnesses.

According to the latest Labour Force Survey that gathered illness data, stress accounted for 39% of workplace-related illnesses in 2013/14, (487,000 cases). The scale of the problem has prompted Acas to issue guidance on depression at work and the HSE has comprehensive information on work-related stress on its website. At the time of writing, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence was reported to be finalising a report that will advise bosses on keeping a healthy and happy workforce.

Those working in nursing, teaching, caring and social work are particularly vulnerable to stress but other research shows work-related stress can occur in any industry or sector. Work pressure, lack of managerial support, colleagues’ failure to do their jobs and violence or bullying can cause stress or make it worse.

The HSE has produced an action plan for workplaces where work pressure is an issue (www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/downloads.htm) and has also introduced work-related stress Management Standards as a way of assessing the risk of stress within an organisation.

These standards include:

demands – including workload, work patterns and the work environment

control – how much say individuals have in the way they do their work support – encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by an organisation, line management and colleagues

relationships – promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour

role – whether people understand their role and whether an organisation ensures they do not have conflicting roles

change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated.

Other factors in stress include the long-hours culture: absence from home can add to domestic pressures. The HSE has also produced a series of case studies showing how organisations have overcome stress-related issues. They can be found at: www.hse.gov.uk/stress/ casestudies.htm

Work-life balance is a vital factor in workplace-related stress and the 2015 Randstad Award survey of 10,700 people of working age in the UK found that half of all respondents cited work-life balance as ‘really important’ – the fourth year it’s appeared in the top six ‘workplace motivators’ – indicating a long-term trend.

Many employers have already caught on to the need for a good work- life balance to combat stress. In some workplaces employees who are spending too long at work are being told to ‘go home’ after timesheet inspections. Stress helplines, self-hypnosis techniques and physiotherapy are also being used. Advice in earlier chapters of the workpocket is also helpful – for instance, make sure staff understand their role, have clearly defined objectives, are well matched to their jobs and have sufficient opportunities to give feedback on work issues and can contribute ideas.