Protecting your employees from work-related stress

Keeping your staff safe and well

Stress and mental health at work are significant issues in most industries; the latest statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggest that work-related stress is on the increase.Lone stressed figure

  • In the last year, 595,000 workers across Great Britain reported experiencing work-related stress, anxiety or depression.
  • This led to 57% of working days being lost due to stress or mental health issues.
  • This equates to around 15.4 million days.
  • Staggeringly, even conservative estimates put the total loss to the British economy at over £5 billion per year.

Defining stress

There are many definitions for ‘stress’, but HSE defines it as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’.

This definition distinguishes between ‘pressure’, which can motivate us, and ‘stress’ which occurs when that pressure becomes excessive and happens over a sustained period, with no time to recover. Stress – when left unaddressed – can lead to serious mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, or physical health conditions including stroke, diabetes, heart conditions and obesity.

Wellbeing industry focused on ‘prevention’

Today there is a growing industry of ‘wellbeing strategies’ which focus on training for managing resilience, mental health, mindfulness, and others. Whilst these can be effective, they are designed to help individuals, and often focus on after they’ve suffered from stress. They won’t stop others from becoming stressed and don’t tackle the root cause – if you put people back into the same environment they will still be affected.

Preventing stress by early intervention is the most effective means of tackling it. Integrating ‘stress’ or ‘mental health’ into regular meetings is one way of monitoring the issue. Remember if someone is having problems, even if not caused by work, early support or offering some short-term flexibility could protect their health and wellbeing.

Finally, it is important to note that anyone can be affected by stress. Making the workplace a safe environment to talk about stress and mental health will benefit both employees and the organisation in the long term.

How and why tackle work-related stress?

As an employer why should you act on work-related stress?

Three key reasons are:

  • keeping your most important resource – your staff – safe and well
  • the benefits in cost savings and improved productivity
  • you have a legal duty to do so, under health and safety legislation

Your next question is probably: ‘where do I start?’

HSE has –  in collaboration with academics and industry –  developed an understanding of the work factors that can lead to stress.

This identified six factors – demands, control, relationships, support, role and change – that if not managed properly, can lead to stress.

The first thing you need to identify is whether you actually have a problem with workplace stress  – and the easiest way to find out is to ask your employees.

Here are some practical tips for taking this important first step, depending upon the size of your organisation:

  • For a smaller organisation, it’s important to talk to your staff – HSE’s Go Home Healthy campaign has developed a ‘Talking Toolkit’ to help you frame these conversations.
  • Raising awareness of stress and its causes is also important, and HSE have developed a series of posters that businesses can use in the workplace.
  • For larger organisations, HSE has developed a Management Standards approach – a process to help conduct a risk assessment, identify potential stressors and begin the process of developing a solution.

HSE is working to reduce work-related stress, using communication, partnerships and regulatory work in the highest risk sectors and evidence-based interventions.

See also:

HSE health and safety statistics 2018

HSE: Work-related stress depression or anxiety statistics in Great Britain 2018

Would you recognise work addiction?

Image: Getty Images