Why work related stress is an issue
Absence from work due to work related stress is costly both in losses to the business affected and the suffering of the individual concerned. It can affect anyone at any level of the business and is not confined to particular jobs or industries.
Statistics show that stress related illness is one of the most significant factors associated to absence from work. It is likely that work related stress is under-reported.
Latest figures suggests that stress related illness in Jersey accounts for:
- approximately 9000 working days lost annually
- an average of 44 days per claim
This length of absence has a big impact on both the employee and the employer.
The effective management of work related stress can have the following benefits for a business:
- happier workforce with high morale
- increased productivity
- less presenteeism (present at work but not fulfilling requirements of role)
- less absenteeism
- reduced sickness pay
- reduced recruitment costs
- reduced training costs
- retention of organisational knowledge
If a business fails to manage stress, then it can suffer the reverse of these positive effects.
Definition of work related stress
The UK Health and Safety Executive defines work related stress as 'the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work'.
Stress can arise from many sources, including work. Feeling stressed:
- is not simply a case of ‘having a bad day’
- is something which usually builds up over a period of time
- can cause both short and long term illnesses
By the time an employee has been signed off from work, they will usually have been in a stressed state for quite some time.
They will have reached the point where they are no longer able to cope with the demands placed on them.
Identifying who is at risk from stress
Employees will have different abilities to cope with pressure. This is usually determined by their personality type and how they perceive the pressure being placed on them. It can affect anyone at any level of the business and is not restricted to particular industries.
The ability to cope with pressure at work will also vary depending on the pressures employees are under outside of work such as:
- relationship problems
- additional caring responsibilities
- health worries
- bereavement, etc
Employers need to acknowledge that everybody has their limit when it comes to coping with pressure but these limits will vary between individuals.
How stress can affect your employees
Stress is not an illness but can lead to employees suffering both short or long term illnesses. Short term effects of stress include:
- heart palpitations
- excessive sweating
- poor decision making
- loss of short term memory
- increase in blood sugar levels
There can also be behavioural changes such as irritability and social withdrawal.
An employee who is suffering from stress will usually be affected both at home and at work, irrespective of the source(s) of the pressure.
Long term effects of stress include heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
What the law requires
As an employer, you must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health of your employees at work.
By considering information available to you such as sickness absences, productivity data, staff turnover, and talking with staff, you can identify whether work related stress is a significant risk within the business. If it is, you, as an employer, are required to take action to reduce this risk.
Stress risk assessments should be conducted and a policy created which details the way in which your business manages stress.
Suitable training and information should be provided to employees, including managers who play a key role in the management of stress.
Stress which is not work related
If employees are suffering from stress due to pressures outside of work, then this is likely to affect their performance at work. This will ultimately have an impact on the business.
Their ability to cope with additional demands at work is likely to be reduced.
While not a legal requirement, it is in the employer's best interest to recognise this and, where necessary, provide support to employees.
Help and guidance
The UK Health and Safety Executive produces practical guidance 'Tackling work-related stress using the Management Standards approach: A step-by-step workbook', which demonstrates good practice and sets out a 'risk assessment' approach to tackling work related stress.
The guidance document includes the six common causes of stress in the workplace. If managed effectively this can improve health, well-being, productivity and decreased sickness absence.
The six common causes of stress are:
- demands: this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
- control: how much say the person has in the way they do their work
- support: this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
- relationships: this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
- role: whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures they do not have conflicting roles
- change: how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation
Further details of these standards and other resources to assist employers with managing stress and information for employees are available from the links below.
UK's Health and Safety Executive's website: stress
UK's Health and Safety Executive's website: further stress resources
Work related stress: Information for employees