9.9 million working days were lost in the UK in 2014/15 due to one thing: work-related stress. This means that – for one year – stress in the workplace cost the UK economy nearly £5.5 billion. Is your organisation doing enough to tackle the problem?
What causes work-related stress?
Work-related stress develops when an employee is unable to cope with the pressures being placed on them at work. There are a number of key ‘triggers’ which have been found to be common across all types of work, including: a workload that is too large; lack of flexibility in work patterns; a hostile working environment, including workplace bullying and violence; lack of control over the work an employee undertakes; lack of support; too much, or too little, responsibility; difficult relationships; lack of employee understanding of their role within the organisation; and organisational change, large or small. Taking control of these across your organisation will help to tackle the negative impacts of work-related stress.
How big is the problem of work-related stress?
In 2014/15, stress accounted for 35% of all work-related illnesses and 43% of working days lost due to ill health. The incidence rate was 1380 per 100,000 workers, with a total of 440,000 cases, including 234,000 new cases. The overall number of lost working days was 9.9 million, equating to 243 days lost per case. Stress has been found to be more prevalent in the public sector. And, despite increasing awareness of the negative effects of stress, the numbers of cases have stayed constant for the last decade.
Not only does stress cause high levels of sickness absence and staff turnover, the broader impacts of stress on employee health are also staggering. Stress can cause heart palpitations, headaches, and other aches and pains. Behind musculoskeletal problems, it is the second biggest health complaint in the workforce. It can drive unhealthy behaviours – such as smoking and heavy drinking – which, in turn, can lead to increased risk of heart disease. Recent studies suggest that there are links to type 2 diabetes. And there have been cases of suicides linked to work-related stress and anxiety.
What are your responsibilities and what should you do about it?
As an employer, you have responsibilities to provide a healthy and safe working environment, in line with the statutory requirements set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The duty covers carrying out and monitoring a risk assessment on your workplace, including the prevalence of stress.
As well as your legal duties, you also have a social responsibility to provide a healthy workplace. This will not only benefit your employees. You’re also likely to see increased motivation and productivity, a more effective work-life balance, reduced absence, fewer risks of long-term illnesses and staff who recover more quickly when they do fall ill. All this means significant improvements in staff morale – and substantial cost savings.
The first step is to evaluate the extent of stress within your organisation. This should involve a risk assessment and an analysis of your absence data, as well as a staff survey. You should involve staff as you develop a policy, which should set out the responsibilities of different groups of staff, as well as all employees, on the steps your organisation will take to mitigate stress. You should develop an action plan to implement any changes that are required. You should know what good practice looks like; seek out examples and set a yardstick for your business.
If your organisation relies heavily on email as a way of communicating, you might want to think specifically about including guidelines for email use out of office hours. This will make it easier for your employees to feel more comfortable stepping away from their smartphones and enjoying some real time away from the job. There might also be other specific activities – including any kind of organisational change – where work-related stress demands particular attention.
Your line managers are perhaps the most critical part of creating a supportive culture. They are best placed to identify which members of their team might be suffering from stress. They are also the employees whose behaviour can have the most significant impact on others. Make sure your line managers know what is expected of them, what management styles should be adopted and what the impacts of work-related stress are on your organisation.
Training can help to set the tone for all your employees, including your line managers. Our 30-minute Stress Essentials eLearning course has been designed to encourage employees to work positively. The course identifies the causes of stress and offers solutions to manage it more effectively. It can be tailored to deliver your organisation’s stress management policy.