Work-related stress: why should we care?

Whether it’s to protect your bottom line, avoid landing in legal trouble or out of sheer care, only good things come from businesses giving a damn about mental health

Work-related stress: why should we care?

Despite the thousands of articles telling businesses to get to grips with their staff’s mental wellbeing every Mental Health Awareness Week, the fact remains that companies are far behind on the matter. Personal Group, the employee services business, found 80% of 1,089 workers see increasing mental health awareness across Britain yet only 38% recognise the same with their employer.

Some serious convincing is clearly needed. So from avoiding legal penalties to fostering better productivity, here’s why companies should care more than anyone about mental health.

The legal case

Whatever your priorities as a business, you can’t ignore the law. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them” and that employers “have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it.” Organisations with over five workers must also evidence such assessments with a written record, so turning a blind eye isn’t easy. 

The business case

In Britain, stress, depression and anxiety are the most commonly reported causes of work-related ill health according to the HSE, which accounts for 57% of sick days and each year costs the economy £5bn. But employers feel the burn even more when looking at poor mental health as a whole, which costs them between £33bn and £42bn annually according to the Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health and Social Care. Needless to say, business owners of all people should be on the frontlines promoting mental health awareness.

The moral case

If legal and commercial reasons aren’t convincing enough, know that research by the HSE shows people exposed to prolonged periods of work-related stress are more likely to develop disorders such as anxiety and depression. And there’s a strong link between depression and suicide, which is tragically most prevalent for those aged between 49 and 59 according to the ONS – just before retirement age.

There’s also evidence such as from the Harvard Medical School that stress has a negative impact on our physical health, increasing the risk of heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease and diabetes.

The stats paint a bleak picture but with the help of employers, they can all be turned around one way or another. For instance, the HSE identified six key areas that, if not managed appropriately, lead to work-related stress. These include demands, which means levels of workloads; control like. involving staff in decision-making, support, relationships, role and change. It’s essential firms complete risk assessments exploring each of these and implement change for a fine balance.

This isn’t good enough alone, however. Companies must also learn preventative measures to stop issues from cropping up in the first place. Look at the 2017 Thriving at Work Report commissioned by the prime minister. It made many recommendations but the most important was its six mental health core standards. These are: “Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan, develop mental health awareness among employees, encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling, provide employees with good working conditions … promote effective people management [and] routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.”

Mental health really is everyone’s business. Employers can technically just fulfil their legal obligations but there’s so much more to be done to reduce work-related stress and promote positive mental health and wellbeing. With Mental Health Awareness Week underway now is the time to commit to your people and business by fulfilling both legal and moral responsibilities. 

This article comes courtesy of Team Mental Health, the organisation that can support your business implement the mental health core standards and develop mental health awareness

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