Common Workplace Accidents Day 11. Stress
Although this is not a work place accident it does effect the UK work force, According to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), in 2018/19 over 600,000 people in the UK reported experiencing work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This amounts to 44% of all work-related illness.
It is therefore important that an employer takes steps to tackle and reduce the work-related causes of stress, and encourage their staff to seek help at the earliest opportunity if they begin to experience stress.
What is stress?
Stress is defined as the 'adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them'. Most staff benefit from a certain amount of pressure in their work. It can keep them motivated and give a sense of ambition.
However, when there is too much pressure placed on them, they can become overloaded. Stress can affect the health of staff, reduce their productivity and lead to performance issues.
Stress is not an illness, but the psychological impact can lead to conditions such as anxiety and depression. Stress, anxiety and depression can also increase the risk of conditions like heart disease, back pain, gastrointestinal illnesses or skin conditions.
What causes stress?
There can be a variety of causes of stress. For example, financial problems, difficulties in personal relationships or moving house can all cause stress. Work can also cause stress.
The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) has identified the six primary causes of work-related stress to be:
- The demands of the job - staff can become overloaded if they cannot cope with the amount of work or type of work they are asked to do
- Amount of control over work - staff can feel disaffected and perform poorly if they have no say over how and when they do their work
- Support from managers and colleagues - levels of sickness absence often rise if staff feel they cannot talk to managers about issues troubling them
- Relationships at work - a failure to build relationships based on good behaviour and trust can lead to problems related to discipline, grievances and bullying
- How a role fits within the organisation - staff will feel anxious about their work and the organisation if they don't know what is expected of them and/or understand how their work fits into the objectives of the organisation
- Change and how it is managed - change needs to be managed effectively or it can lead to huge uncertainty and insecurity.
A 2019 Acas poll Stress and anxiety at work: personal or cultural? [324kb] found the most common causes of stress and/or anxiety for employees was their workload, the way they were managed, and their work-life balance.
Why should employers try to reduce the causes of stress at work?
Firstly, reducing work-related stress can be hugely beneficial to an employer:
- Making staff healthier and happier at work
- Improving performance and making staff more productive
- Reducing absence levels
- Reducing workplace disputes
- Making the organisation more attractive to job seekers
Secondly, an employer has a legal obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees. As part of this, an employer must conduct risk assessments for work-related stress and take actions to prevent staff from experiencing a stress-related illness because of their work.
For more information on how to conduct a risk assessment, go to www.hse.gov.uk/stress.
Taking steps to reduce work-related stress
If a risk assessment identifies areas where the organisation is performing poorly, an employer should work with its staff to agree realistic and practical ways to tackle it.
Any existing consultation and/or negotiating arrangements should be followed so that staff and/or their representatives can contribute their views.
An employer should then develop an action plan that includes:
- what the problem is
- how it was identified
- the proposed solution/s
- actions to be taken to achieve the solution/s
- dates by which each action should be achieved
- how staff will be kept informed on progress
- a date to review the plan and see if it has achieved its aim.
Once solutions have been implemented, the review should check that agreed actions have been done and evaluate how effective these have been. The views of staff, and data collected on employee turnover, sickness absence and productivity, can help compare the organisation against how it was before the action plan was implemented.
An employer will then need to consider what, if any, further action is needed.
Spotting when staff may be experiencing stress
While identifying work-related risks and taking preventative measures should help minimise stress for most staff, it may still affect some team members due to issues inside or outside of the workplace. Managers should be prepared to help and support a team member experiencing stress.
Although training on stress can be very useful, a manager should not be expected to be an expert.
It is important to never make assumptions, but signs that a team member may be stressed include:
changes in the person's usual behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues
- changes in the standard of their work or focus on tasks
- appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and reduced interest in tasks they previously enjoyed
- changes in appetite and/or increase in smoking and drinking alcohol
- an increase in sickness absences and/or turning up late to work.
Talking to a team member who may be experiencing stress
Where a manager thinks a team member may be experiencing stress, they should approach the matter in the same way set out in the guidance on Managing staff experiencing mental ill health. This is because without talking to the team member, it is impossible to know what is affecting them and therefore a consistent approach should be taken.
Additionally, organisations should encourage staff to talk to their manager if they think they are becoming unwell. Creating a working environment that proactively supports staff who become unwell will make it easier for staff to tell their manager if they are experiencing stress