Why it’s time to speak up about stress at work

Signpost to Reduce Stress

Carolyn Yeoman, ‎Principal Organisational Psychologist at HSE’s Health and Safety Laboratory, explains the benefits of tackling work-related stress.

It often strikes me as odd that the single largest contributor to employee absence seems to be the one we talk about the least.

Illnesses relating to workplace stress, anxiety or depression account for around 40% of all staff absences, costing the UK economy an estimated £1 billion every year.

Why don’t we own up to feeling stressed at work?

Clearly, work related stress is no small problem. But, according to a study conducted by the mental health charity MIND, although almost one in five people will take a day’s sick leave because of stress, 90% of those employees affected will give some reason other than stress for their absence.  Why? It’s as though we feel that admitting we’re stressed will somehow count against us in our employment, perhaps because we mistakenly perceive that stress isn’t a ‘real’ illness like flu or measles.
It’s also easy for employers to overlook intangible health issues such as stress and focus instead on resolving physical – and more easily identified – safety hazards.

Yet health issues are just as important as safety issues and should be given equal priority.
Failing to identify and manage stress in an organisation will eventually harm employees and negatively impact business. It doesn’t have to be like this.

HSE’s Management Standards for Stress

HSE research has identified, and produced Management Standards for, six key areas of work design that are primary risk factors in work-related stress. These are: demands; control; support; relationships; role and change.

Now, I’m keen to point out here that stress is no different from any other kind of health or safety problem: if you successfully identify, assess and eliminate the primary risks you can attain an effective and sustained solution. This is the key to the Management Standards; they represent a set of conditions that, once in place, reflect a high level of health, well-being and organisational performance.

Of course, knowing where to begin with tackling work-related stress can be a bit of a challenge for employers. But my experience of helping organisations to successfully implement an approach to preventing work related stress, based on HSE’s Management Standards, invariably shows that the rewards justify the effort.

Any organisation that introduces appropriate measures to manage and reduce stress can benefit from fewer stress-related staff absences and their associated costs, sustained productivity, a content and motivated workforce and the reputation of an employer that genuinely cares about the wellbeing of its staff.

Want to share your thoughts and experiences of tackling work related stress? Add your comment below.

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