Work related stress
Well-designed, organised and managed work is good for us but when insufficient attention to job design, work organisation and management has taken place, it can result in Work related stress. Work related stress develops because a person is unable to cope with the demands being placed on them. Stress, including work related stress, can be a significant cause of illness and is known to be linked with high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other issues such as more errors.
Stress can hit anyone at any level of the business and recent research shows that work related stress is widespread and is not confined to particular sectors, jobs or industries. That is why a population-wide approach is necessary to tackle it.
What is stress?
Stress can hit anyone at any level of the business and recent research shows that work related stress is widespread and is not confined to particular sectors, jobs or industries. HSE's formal definition of work related stress is:
"The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work."
Stress is not an illness – it is a state. However, if stress becomes too excessive and prolonged, mental and physical illness may develop.
Well-designed, organised and managed work is generally good for us but when insufficient attention to job design, work organisation and management has taken place, it can result inWork related stress. Work related stress develops because a person is unable to cope with the demands being placed on them. Stress, including work related stress, can be a significant cause of illness and is known to be linked with high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other issues such as more errors.
There is a difference between pressure and stress. Pressure can be positive and a motivating factor, and is often essential in a job. It can help us achieve our goals and perform better. Stress occurs when this pressure becomes excessive. Stress is a natural reaction to too much pressure.
A person experiences stress when they perceive that the demands of their work are greater than their ability to cope. Coping means balancing the demands and pressures placed on you (i.e. the job requirements) with your skills and knowledge (i.e. your capabilities). For example, if you give a member of your team a tight deadline on a project they feel they have neither the skills nor ability to do well, they may begin to feel undue pressure which could result in work related stress.
Stress can also result from having too few demands, as people will become bored, feel undervalued and lack recognition. If they feel they have little or no say over the work they do or how they do it, this may cause them stress.
Stress affects people in different ways and what one person finds stressful can be normal to another. With each new situation a person will decide what the challenge is and whether they have the resources to cope. If they decide they don't have the resources, they will begin to feel stressed. How they appraise the situation will depend on various factors, including:
As a manager you have a duty to ensure that work does not make your team ill. Understanding how to spot thesigns of stressin your team, and then know what to do to reduce stress, will help you achieve this.
"For me it was a new boss. I found myself crying 'cos I couldn't keep up suddenly. Stress is where you can't cope, there's too much and you don't know what to focus on any more."
HSE has identified six factors that can lead to work related stress if they are not managed properly.
Employees indicate that they are able to cope with the demands of their jobs.
Employees indicate that they are able to have a say about the way they do their work.
Employees indicate that they receive adequate information and support from their colleagues and superiors.
Employees indicate that they are not subjected to unacceptable behaviours, e.g. bullying at work.
Employees indicate that they understand their role and responsibilities.
Employees indicate that the organisation engages them frequently when undergoing an organisational change.
It is important to understand each of the six factors and how they are related to each other, as this can influence the amount of stress an individual experiences:
Understanding that these six factors can cause stress for employees can help employers and managers answer the questions:
A person can experience excessive pressure and demands outside work just as much as they can at work. Stress tends to build up over time because of a combination of factors that may not all be work related. Conflicting demands of work and home can cause excessive stress.
Problems outside work can affect a person's ability to perform effectively at work. Stressors at home can affect those at work and vice versa. For example, working long hours, or away from home, taking work home and having higher responsibility can all have a negative effect on a person’s home life – something which is supposed to be a 'buffer' against the stressful events of work. In the same way, domestic problems such as childcare, financial or relationship problems can negatively affect a person’s work. The person loses out – as do their family and their employer. It becomes a vicious circle.
It is difficult to control outside stressors, but you need to take a holistic approach to employee well-being. To manage work related stress effectively, you need to recognise the importance and interaction of work and home problems.
"… I think if the managers took time out generally to get to know you personally, your home life, if you've got any problems at home that might be affecting your work… [it would help] to know that they're available."
Many things in people's lives outside work can cause them stress, for example:
You don't have to, but it's good if you do. If you think about people's personal lives and outside stressors, you will be able to anticipate stressful times.
Your employee is not obliged to tell you their personal problems, but there are some practical things you could do to support them:
Programmes of this kind can work effectively to
Work related stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.
Mental healthis how we think, feel and behave.
Common mental health problemsare those that:
Anxietyis an unpleasant feeling when you feel worried, uneasy or distressed about something that may or may not be about to happen.(NHS Direct)
Depressionis when you have feelings of extreme sadness, despair or inadequacy that last for a long time.(NHS Direct)
One person in four in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point in their life. While mental health problems are common, most are mild. The family doctor and primary healthcare team can usually deal with them without referring the person for specialist help.
Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems. Often these are a reaction to a difficult life event, for example moving house, bereavement, or problems at work.
CMHPs tend to be short-term and are generally treated by medication from a GP. The GP will review this treatment and if there is no improvement, consider referring to a specialist.
Work related stress and mental health often go together. The symptoms of stress and common mental health problems are similar, for example, loss of appetite, fatigue and tearfulness can be symptoms of both.
Work related stress may trigger an existing mental health problem that the person may otherwise have successfully managed without letting it affect their work.
For people with existing mental health issues, work related stress may worsen their problem. If work related stress reaches a point where it has triggered an existing mental health problem, it becomes hard to separate one from the other.
Common mental health problems and stress can exist independently. For example, people can have work related stress and physical changes such as high blood pressure, without experiencing anxiety and depression. They can also have anxiety and depression without experiencing stress.
The key difference between the two is their cause and the way they are treated.
Stress at work is a reaction to events or experiences at work. CMHPs can arise through causes outside work, e.g. bereavement, divorce, postnatal depression or a family history of the problem. However, people can have CMHPs with no obvious causes.
Organisations can manage and prevent stress by improving conditions at work. Doctors usually treat common mental health problems by prescribing medication. However, you and your managers have a role in making adjustments and helping the person to manage the problem at work.
In practice, it can be hard to distinguish when ‘stress’ turns into a ‘mental health problem’ and when existing mental health problems become exaggerated by stress at work.
Many of the symptoms are similar to those that people experience when they are under considerable pressure; the key differences are in the severity and duration of the symptoms and the impact they have on someone’s everyday life.
Usually a general practitioner (GP) will make the diagnosis and offer treatment e.g. medication, talking therapies or a combination of both.
The majority of people with mental health problems are treated by their GP and most are capable of continuing to work productively. Evidence shows that employment can be of great benefit, both to the employer and to the employee.