A job or way in which a workplace is organised has the potential to lead to work-related stress, including cases of depression and anxiety. Stress can affect anyone in the workplace and is not limited to a specific type of job or industry. Work-related stress may develop when a worker is not able to cope with demands of the workplace and their position. This stress often leads to higher levels of absence from work and employee turnover. It is also a cause of illness.
What is Work-related Stress?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work-related stress as 'the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work'. Stress differs from work pressure, which can have the positive effect of motivating workers to achieve goals and perform effectively. Although stress itself is not an illness, extended and excessive periods of it can lead to the development of mental and physical illnesses.
Workload pressure is a key cause of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. This includes working to tight deadlines, lack of support from management, and having too much responsibility. Work-related stress can also develop if a worker is not challenged or has few demands. In these cases, workers become bored and do not feel valued or recognised. Work-related stress is especially prevalent in public service sectors, including education, health and social case, public administration, and defence. Health care workers and teachers - as well as business, media, and public service professionals - are especially at risk for stress.
Each person is affected by stress in different ways, as individuals cope with different situations and challenges in their own ways. Factors that impact on how stress affects people includes an individual's personality, skills and experience, background and culture, personal circumstances, health, gender and age, and personal circumstances including demands at home and in the workplace. The availably of tools and resources designed to help workers deal with stress also has an impact on the ways that people deal with stress in the workplace.
Work Days Lost due to Stress
Work-related stress, depression, and anxiety totalled an estimated 602,000 cases in 2018-19, according to the HSE's Labour Force Survey. That is about 1,800 cases for every 100,000 workers. Stress accounted for almost half of work-related ill health cases (44 percent) and over half of all working days lost because of ill health (54 percent). The number of working days lost as a result of work-related stress was estimated at 12.8 million days in 2018-19, with an average of 21.2 days lost for each case.
Work Related Stress Statistics
Your Responsibility as an Employer in Tackling Workplace Stress
Managers have a duty to ensure that their workers are not harmed by the work they do. They should look for signs of stress, both in individuals and in the larger team. These may include changes to eating habits or behaviours, mood swings, changes in attendance, increased staff turnover, and complaints or disputes within the team.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 place a legal responsibility on employers to ensure their employees' health, safety, and welfare. This responsibility extends to minimising the risk of illness or injury caused by work-related stress. Directors need to consider how to monitor stress-related indicators, such as high absenteeism or turnover. They also need to ensure their health and safety policy covers workplace stress. In addition, risk assessments need to be carried out and reviewed regularly, with consideration being placed on the stress risks associated with significant organisational change.
Responsibilities of Managers in Tackling Workplace Stress
Line managers are responsible for helping employers address and reduce workplace stress. This might include considering how to monitor and address sources of stress, reporting concerns to senior management, and determining if work-related stress is at the route of issues such as absenteeism. Human resources, and health and safety managers, also have a role in addressing and reducing work-related stress. This is done by staying informed regarding latest best practices, as well as conducting and reviewing risk assessments. These managers must also provide information about stress related illnesses and other relevant information to employees. It is also vital to report all concerns to senior management.
The Health and Safety Executive Management Standards
The HSE's Management Standards cover various areas of work design. If these areas are not managed properly there could be health and well-being problems, including increased illness, absenteeism, and low productivity. The Management Standards cover six specific areas, which help employers focus their risk assessments and other activities to ensure risk factors for work-related stress are identified and mitigated. These six areas also help to assess the workplace using surveys and other data collection methods.
The six areas covered by the HSE Management Standards are:
- Demands, such as workload, work patterns and work environment
- Control, specifically how much an individual can directly affect or influence the way they work
- Support - including encouragement, sponsorship, and resources - that organisations, line managers and colleagues provide
- Relationships, including the promotion of a positive workplace where conflict and unacceptable behaviour are addressed appropriately
- Roles. Do individuals understand their place in an organisation and the importance of avoiding conflicting roles?
- Change, including how organisational change of any size is managed and communicated
Workplace Stress Management Advice and Tools
Various tools can be used to help individuals manage work-related stress, including training and practical exercises. The following are a few resources to help manage workplace stress:
HSE: Work-related stress
HSE: Work-related stress exercises for health and safety representatives
HSE: Managing the causes of work-related stress
NHS: Beat stress at work
NHS: 10 stress busters
Stress Management Society: Workplace Wellbeing Solutions
Acas: Stress at work
Advice for Employees
Employees are responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure their health and safety at work, as well as the well-being of colleagues and others in the workplace. This includes letting their employer know if they are feeling pressure or suffering from a medical condition that might affect their performance. Employees should also discuss making reasonable adjustments to help them carry out their work and suggest ways to reduce workplace stress.
The HSE has also provided various resources to help employees with workplace stress.