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What is workplace stress and how can businesses support employees?

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Written by: Alcumus
12th November

What is workplace stress?

Workplace stress is - “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”. (Source: HSE)

Did you know, Stress, anxiety, and depression are the single biggest causes of lost time in the UK.

How does mental health affect businesses?

  • 828,000 - total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety recorded in 2019/20.
  • 17.9 million working days  - lost due to this condition in 2019/20. (an average of 21.6 days lost per case).
  • In 2019/20 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health.

Workplace stress and how to tackle it

Employment law requires all employers to assess the risk of work-related stress and to put steps in place to tackle those risks, In other words, Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it.

Employees feel stress when they can't cope with pressures and other issues. Employers should match demands to employees' skills and knowledge. For example, employees can get stressed if they feel they don't have the skills or time to meet tight deadlines. Providing planning, training and support can reduce pressure and bring stress levels down.

Stress affects us all at different times and in different ways. It can cause people to feel physically unwell, can cause mental health problems and can make existing problems worse.

It’s important to remember that it’s not an employer’s or a line manager’s job to diagnose or treat stress, whatever its cause. If an employee is having problems, it’s important that they get help as soon as possible.

Whether an employer is a small business or a large corporation, the law requires all employers to assess the risk of work-related stress and to put steps in place to tackle those risks.

Stress at work management standards

  • The HSE has developed a framework that can be adopted by organisations called the ‘Management Standards Approach’ which examines the causes of work-relates stress under six headings:
  • The management standards define the culture of an organisation where the risks from work-related stress are being effectively managed and controlled (i.e. goals or targets to be achieved by the organisation).
  • The Management standards approach will help organisations comply with the law and tackle work-related stress.

Six Workplace stress Management Standards to aim for:

  1. Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment.
  2. Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work.
  3. Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.
  4. Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
  5. Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures they do not have conflicting roles.
  6. Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.

What is a stress audit?

Stress Audit – Before controls can be determined, an organisation needs to undertake an assessment (i.e. audit or survey) to identify the stressors present. The audit will act as a benchmark and provide a baseline against which future audits can be compared. The comparison can be used to monitor the effectiveness of any stress management controls.

Management commitment to tackling workplace stress at work

Before any audit or assessment is undertaken there needs to be real commitment from the top level of management because without their visible commitment and drive a stress reduction programme will not be effective. Programmes are less successful if there is no senior management commitment, the senior team needs to be briefed and where possible trained to understand the rational and business case for stress management, including their legal duties. Successful programmes involve commitment from senior management, i.e. a director being project lead with visible support from the boardroom, attendance at stress management training etc and the introduction of communications about stress-related initiatives.

What actions can companies take to tackle work relates stress?

  • Management Commitment to tackle Work-related stress
  • Implement a stress management programme & project group
  • Undertake a company wide stress audit
  • Conduct a suitable & sufficient Risk Assessments for Stress, Violence & Aggression
  • Adopt company policies & Procedures to enable those suffering from stress and mental ill-health to remain in work
  • Adopt the HSE Management Standards
  • Improve and Increase communication & engagement with all Employees.
  • Develop an action plan which is communicated company wide

What are the benefits for companies tackling stress at work?

  • Lower levels of accidents & absenteeism
  • Will Improve the resilience of the organisation
  • Will protect the Organisations brand & reputation
  • Better Worker satisfaction & improved performance
  • Better Staff retention (less need for temporary or cover staff)
  • Improve organisations ability to attract higher calibre of staff
  • Maintains better relationships with external stakeholders & investors.
  • Promotes a healthy workforce showing that the company care about its people
  • Ensures legislative compliance
  • Ultimately saves the organisation money

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