Nearly 40% of all work-related illness is reported to be caused by stress and yet many employees are uncomfortable in talking about stress at work.
However, stress is not a weakness, and can affect anyone at any level of an organisation. It’s important that an employer takes steps to tackle the causes of work-related stress in its organisation and encourages staff to seek help at the earliest opportunity.
What causes stress?
Stress is defined as the ‘adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. Pressure can help to keep people motivated, however then there is too much pressure placed on them, they can become overloaded, having a serious impact on their health. Stress is not an illness, but the psychological impact can lead to conditions such as anxiety and depression. Stress, anxiety and depression can also increase the risk of conditions like heart disease, back pain, gastrointestinal illnesses or skin conditions.
An employer has a legal obligation to reduce stress at work
An employer has a legal obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees. An employer must conduct risk assessments for work-related stress, and take action to prevent staff from experiencing a stress-related illness because of their work.
If a risk assessment identifies areas where the organisation is performing poorly, an employer should work with its staff to agree realistic and practical ways to tackle it.
An employer should then develop an action plan that includes:
- what the problem is;
- how it was identified;
- the proposed solutions;
- actions to be taken to achieve the solutions;
- dates by which each action should be achieved;
- how staff will be kept informed on progress;
- a date to review the plan and see if it has achieved its aim.
Once solutions have been implemented, the review should check that agreed actions have been done and evaluate how effective these have been. The views of staff, and data collected on employee turnover, sickness absence and productivity, can help compare the organisation against how it was before the action plan was implemented. An employer will then need to consider what, if any, further action is needed.
Other benefits of reducing stress in the workplace
Reducing work-related stress can also be hugely beneficial to an employer, by:
- Making staff healthier and happier at work;
- Improving performance and making staff more productive;
- Reducing absence levels;
- Reducing workplace disputes;
- Making the organisation more attractive to job seekers.
Acas Publication – Promoting positive mental health in the workplace pdf [284kb]
This step-by-step guide is written for employers and senior managers. It explains how you should approach changing your workplace to promote positive mental health and where to go when further guidance and support are necessary.
How to conduct a risk assessment www.hse.gov.uk/stress