We must tackle workplace stress

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On the face of it there is nothing to argue with in here - it is in everyone’s interests for companies to help staff with the problems they face, mental health-related or otherwise. But the Thriving ...


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Whether you’re a manager or an employee it’s clear that managing workplace stress is a vital issue

It’s natural to feel the pressure to deliver if you’ve been asked to meet a tight deadline, or have a big presentation to make to your bosses.

Being under pressure can be motivational; many people relish the opportunity to manage several projects at once, and thrive on the buzz of being busy.

Stress however can have the opposite effect. Dealing with workplace stress can leave a person unable to focus, feeling overwhelmed and more likely to become irritable with colleagues. Stress can have a negative impact on a person’s physical and mental health, and it’s likely to adversely affect their life both at work and home.

For National Stress Awareness Day, I’m calling on workplaces to better identify employees at risk of workplace stress, and put in place more effective systems to help with stress management. Stress should never be viewed as ‘part of the day job’ – there are things we can all do to help ourselves and others to cope more effectively.

Whether you’re a manager or an employee, it’s clear that managing workplace stress is a vital issue – not only for people’s health, but also for the health of the economy. Last year around 12.5 million working days were lost due to stress, anxiety or depression, with billions lost from the economy as a result.

There can be any number of reasons for stress. This can range from feeling overworked, having no clear objectives, being micromanaged, or not being managed at all. Without proper support and care, excess stress can lead to the development of mental health conditions.

The Thriving at Work review into mental health, commissioned by the prime minister and released last week, found that up to 300,000 people with long-term mental health issues have to leave their jobs each year. I believe that with better stress management this number would be much lower.

Last week’s review made a number of recommendations about how to manage mental health in the workplace, several of which I think can also be applied to stress. A key recommendation is that all employers should adopt some core mental health standards, which include encouraging open conversations and the support available to employees, providing employees with good working conditions, and promoting effective people management.

You can adapt these recommendations to your workplace in a number of ways. For example: introducing flexible working or allowing people to work from home more often. If people know they can take an extra hour to deal with an emergency at home, rather than having to rush to get into the office, then it’s one less source of stress.

Managers should be setting clear objectives for their staff, with measurable targets and recognition of work well done. People should be encouraged to work independently, but with regular checks on their progress and welfare.

Bringing mindfulness into the workplace can also be a great help to reducing stress in the workplace. Encouraging people to take a step away from work to release pressure and focus on the moment can have enormous benefits, even if it’s only for a few minutes each day.

Workplace stress can often go unseen, and the negative effects can be devastating. But with just a few small changes you could improve stress management in your workplace, with benefits for both your business and, more importantly, your employees’ health.

Damian Hinds is minister for employment

Comments

On the face of it there is nothing to argue with in here - it is in everyone’s interests for companies to help staff with the problems they face, mental health-related or otherwise. But the Thriving at Work report contains a massive oversight - among the countless recommendations relating to practices, procedures, support structures and so on there is almost nothing said about the contribution that work makes to employees’ ill-health. According to Richard Layard, author of the current NHS psychological therapies programme, about a third of all the stress employed people suffer is generated by the work itself.  Surely the first responsibility of the workplace is to acknowledge this and do something about it - it makes no sense to put countless new measures in place while paying so little attention to the way work helps make people ill in the first place. The report does say that employers should ‘Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development’, but this idea emerges briefly and then disappears among the endless waffle about ‘transparency’, ’core standards’ and ‘accrediting organisations’. This is unfortunate because the stress generated by work is the only part of this problem that the employer has any control over. So, the employer needs a way to find out what is working about work and what is stressful, from the employees’ perspectives. Then you can make useful interventions in the areas that are not working so well, simultaneously relieving some of the employee stress and improving the quality and productivity of work. I have an interest here, as WeThrive is a system that does this, but I can say from our own customers' experience that sickness rates from all causes will fall if you do this. Piers Bishop piers@wethrive.net


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Absolutely agree Piers. In my experience, unfortunately, too many companies have done and continue to pay lip service to the mental health of their employees. I disagree on the point of employers just being responsible for stress at work. Although that may be their only legal obligation if the individual cannot function or be productive because of stress outside of work then that also needs to be resolved. It is in the employers and employees interest. A clear example is where Tiger Woods completely lost his game due to stress outside of his professional remit


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