How to identify workplace stress

Stress is not a new problem, but only recently does it seem that it has reached employers’ consciousness.

The impact of stress

For employers, stress affects employee’s health, morale, productivity, performance, attendance and employment relations. This, in turn, can affect the business’s productivity, staff turnover and reputation.

According to the latest Labour Force Survey:

  • In 2015/2016, there were 488,000 cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety.
  • The total number of working days lost was 11.7 million days.
  • Stress makes up 37% of all work related ill health cases.
  • Stress is more common in public service industries, including education, health, and social care.
  • Workload pressures, including tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of support from managers, were the main reasons given by respondents for causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

What is stress?

The definition provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”.

There is a difference between pressure and stress. There is some sort of pressure in all jobs, but it can make people feel challenged, motivated and have a positive effect on their performance. Stress, on the other hand, can cause a detrimental effect to someone’s mental and physical health and well-being.

What causes stress?

According to the HSE, there are six main causes of stress in the workplace.

  • Demands

Employees may not be able to cope with the demands of their job and feel overwhelmed with their workload, work pattern or work environment.

  • Control

An employee may get stressed if they feel a lack of control about the way they do their work. This can lead to them underperforming and feeling isolated.

  • Support

They can also feel stressed that they are not supported in the workplace by their managers or colleagues.

  • Relationships

The nature of relationships within the workplace can affect an employee’s wellbeing. If relationships in the workplace are causing stress, this can lead to employee grievances being raised, allegations of bullying and/or harassment and bad team dynamics.

  • Role

People get stressed when they don’t understand their role and what is expected of them, or if they have conflicting job demands.

  • Change

Change can be very unsettling for some employees. They may will start wondering how things will change? What is the effect on them? Will they need to move site? Will this result in job losses?

Of course, it is not just work that causes stress. Personal issues such as relationships, family, bereavement, money and illness can all factor in and impact on the employee’s health.

How do I spot signs of stress?

Stress can manifest itself in a number of ways. You may notice changes in an employee’s behaviour, habits or routines. For example, you may notice them stepping out to smoke more, taking more time off, changes to their appetite, or that they are struggling to remember things or making uncharacteristic mistakes.

Alternatively, you may notice emotional changes, for instance, they seem more withdrawn or they are more sensitive or snappy when responding to people or certain situations.

What obligations does the law impose on employers?

Employers have a legal duty to ensure that workplaces are safe and healthy. The law also lays down that employers need to carry out a risk assessment to assess the risks of work-related stress and take measures or step to control and reduce these risks.

At Ellis Whittam, our Employment Law Advisers and Health & Safety Consultants can provide you with all the support you need to tackle difficult issues and identify the key priorities for your organisation. Call us today to find out about our services and how we can assist you.