Stress and mental health at work are significant issues in most industries; the latest statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggest work-related stress is on the increase. In the past year 595,000 workers across Great Britain reported experiencing work-related stress, anxiety or depression. The total number of working days lost because of this condition was 15.4 million days, accounting for 57% of all working days lost because of ill health. Staggeringly, even conservative estimates put the total loss to the British economy at more than £5 billion per year.
What is stress?
There are many definitions for stress, but the HSE defines it as 'the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them'.
In this definition we distinguish between ‘pressure’ that can motivate us, and ‘stress’ that occurs when pressure becomes excessive and happens over a sustained period, with no time to recover. Stress, when not tackled, can lead to serious mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, or physical health conditions including stroke, diabetes, heart conditions and obesity.
There is a growing industry of ‘wellbeing strategies’ that focus on training for managing resilience, mental health and mindfulness. Although such training can be effective and help people it is often implemented after they’ve suffered from stress. It won’t prevent others from becoming stressed as it doesn’t tackle the root cause. If you put people back into the same environment they will still be affected.
Preventing stress by early intervention, or by designing job roles more efficiently, are the most effective means of tackling it. Discussing stress or mental health at regular meetings is one way of monitoring the issue. If someone is having problems, even if not caused by work, offering them early support or short-term flexibility could protect their health and wellbeing.
Why you should tackle work-related stress
As an employer there are three key reasons:
- Keeping your most important resource – your staff – safe and well.
- Benefits in cost savings and improved productivity.
- You have a legal duty to do so under health and safety legislation.
Where do I start?
Working with academics and industry the HSE has developed an understanding of the work factors that can lead to stress. Six factors have been identified that, if not managed properly, can lead to stress – demands, control, relationships, support, role and change.
The easiest way to identify if your organisation has an issue with workplace stress is to ask your employees. Here are some practical tips to achieve this:
- For a smaller organisation, talk to your staff – we have developed a ‘Talking Toolkit’ to help you frame these conversations.
- Raising awareness of stress and its causes is also important, and we’ve developed a series of posters you can use in your workplace.
- For larger organisations the HSE has developed its Management Standards approach – a process to help conduct risk assessments, identify potential stressors and begin the process of developing a solution. Consultation with employees is done using the Stress Indicator Tool, followed by focus groups to check the findings and gather more detailed information.
What is the Stress Indicator Tool (SIT)?
SIT was developed by academics and industry experts at HSE to accurately measure and determine the attitudes and perceptions of employees towards work-related stress. It is an online 35-question survey designed to gather data anonymously from employees, which can be used in the risk assessment element of HSE’s Management Standards approach. Obtaining and understanding this data helps identify areas to improve to prevent or manage work-related stress.
The report is automated so you don’t have to spend time collating data or inputting the results manually. This helps avoid data-entry errors, making the information collected more accurate and reliable. The report summarises the views and experiences of employees and provides recommendations for future improvements.
Benefits of using the SIT:
- Intuitive system that reduces admin time and resources used.
- Options to customise – add branding, write a personalised introduction, choose appropriate demographic questions and tailor the terminology to reflect your workplace.
- Automatic analysis of the responses generates a summary report of the results and provides recommendations to address identified issues.
- Directly focus and compare results against departments, job roles, locations, age etc.
- Functionality to create bespoke reports to highlight potential priority areas.
- Access to a wealth of HSE resources.
To find out more and for a free demonstration of the tool contact us via:
- Go Home Healthy: https://campaigns.hse.gov.uk/go-home-healthy/work-related-stress/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GoHomeHealthy/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/go_home_healthy
Rob McGreal is HSE policy lead for work-related stress