Rob McGreal of the Health and Safety Executive explains what employers should do to reduce stress in their companies
Employers across Great Britain needs to be reminded of the link between failing to properly manage work-related stress and a rise in poor mental health among staff.
Health and Safety Executive’s latest ill health statistics show that as many as 595,000 workers reportedly suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the last year which in turn led to the loss of around 15.4 million working days – not great news for those experiencing it or for productivity and business in general.
Work-related stress is often linked to the education and health and social care sectors, but research from management software provider Process Bliss to suggest that SMEs aren’t immune either. This study highlights that almost half of workers in these businesses have left their jobs due to work-related frustrations and stress.
What is stress and how is it caused?
At the Health and Safety Executive, we define stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them.”
We make a differentiation between the terms pressure and stress. Pressure can act as a motivator and even be considered good for us. However, it’s when this pressure builds and becomes excessive over a sustained period of time, with little or no recovery time, that stress can develop. If that stress is not managed or dealt with, it can lead to serious mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression as well as physical health conditions including stroke, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), heart conditions and obesity.
How to choose the right approach for your business
With an increasing awareness of mental health issues and rising levels of work-related stress, an industry appears to have sprung up to help relieve these issues with a focus on wellbeing. Many businesses are now creating wellbeing strategies incorporating meditation and yoga as a means to help staff deal with stress.
We recognise that these may provide some therapeutic value for individual staff members, but it’s important to realise they don’t prevent other workers from being affected nor do they stop the individual already experiencing stress from becoming further affected. This is because these solutions do not remove the root cause, they do not address the work stressors and therefore cannot solve the wider issue of organisational work-related stress.
Managing work-related stress in an SME
Employers have a legal duty to take health risks as seriously as safety – all businesses, regardless of size and industry, must take action to tackle identified risks so they can prevent and manage work-related stress amongst their workers.
In pursuit of practical solutions, we recommend business owners have a look at Health and Safety Executive's management standards approach which considers stress on the basis of six key areas of work. The first one is demands as in what each employee’s workload, work patterns and the work environment is like. The second is control as in how much say the person has in the way they do their work. The third, support showcases how much encouragement and resources are provided to each staff member. The fourth is relationships. This one is all about promoting a positive working culture. The fifth area is the role as in whether people understand their role within the company. The final area that determines your employees‘ stress levels is change as in how organisational change is managed and communicated.
Stress can affect anyone at any level, so if you are experiencing a problem, speak to someone – a friend, your manager, GP or occupational health team.