Reducing Stress in the Workplace

Work can be fulfilling, but the workplace can often be a stressful place to be. There are many reasons why stress can affect people and lead to time off work, often affecting productivity. Employers can help to reduce the problems employees may have by understanding the causes of stress and what can be done to alleviate it.

What is work related stress?

When employees are under excessive pressure or have to react to heavy demands put on them, they may suffer from stress in the workplace. Stress is not an illness in itself, but if not dealt with, it can lead to mental and physical illness.

Main causes of stress

The development of workplace stress is usually associated with too many demands being put on an employee and their inability to cope with these demands. It can happen in all employment sectors and can be very damaging to individuals. Sometimes it may be due to an insufficient amount of other staff to help carry the workload, which can result in more problems for a business if a staff member is off sick or leaves due to stress.

Employees don’t necessarily get stressed due to pressure – indeed, pressure can be a motivating factor and a positive part of working life. It can help an employee achieve goals and perform better, but if it goes too far, too much pressure can cause stress.

What is the cost to society and businesses?

 According to the Health and Safety Executive, there were 488,000 cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16, with a total of 11.7 million working days lost due to the condition. Stress during this period accounted for 45% of working days lost because of ill health, which is why employers need to take seriously the possibility that employees may become stressed due to their working environment.

Recognising stress

Stress affects people in different ways, and it’s not always easy to recognise when somebody is suffering from it. There is usually a change of behaviour that can be linked to excessive pressure or demands. An employee may find it difficult to concentrate or have lapses of memory, becoming confused or indecisive. Other symptoms could include mood swings that may be noticeable in the workplace or changes in attendance at work, such as taking more time off or arriving later a regular basis.

Neither an employer nor an employee can diagnose stress, so if there appears to be a problem, employers should consider recommending a visit to the employee’s GP.

What can employers do to reduce stress in the workplace?

Employers need to carry out risk assessments in areas where stress could be a problem. This involves looking at the way the various departments are managed and training managers to be able to spot changes in employee behaviour that could signify the build up of stress.

Quality management can defuse the possibilities of stress related problems by acknowledging they exist and developing a management style that is not dictatorial but open to good working practices that recognise stress in the workplace and offer guidelines for dealing with it.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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