April is Stress Awareness Month. Stress is something everyone feels at times and there are all kinds of stressful situations that can be part of daily life. Workload pressures, deadlines, issues coping with or adapting to the demands of a job, unsupportive managers and difficult relationships with colleagues are common reasons for work-related stress.
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It is very common and can be motivating to help us achieve things in our work, home and family life. However, too much stress can affect our mood, our body and our relationships. It can make us feel anxious and irritable and affect our self-esteem.
Experiencing a lot of stress over a prolonged period can also lead to anxiety, depression and burnout. Work can also aggravate pre-existing conditions and issues, with problems at work triggering symptoms or making their effects worse.
Signs of stress and burnout
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Have racing thoughts or difficulty concentrating
• Feeling constantly worried, anxious or scared
• A lack of self-confidence
• Trouble sleeping or feeling tired all the time
• Avoiding things or people you are having problems with
• Eating more or less than usual
• Drinking or smoking more than usual.
Mental health and work
The government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that in the UK in 2020 to 2021, 822,000 workers reported experiencing work-related stress, depression or anxiety. The mental health charity, Mind, found that 2 in 5 employees reported that their mental health had worsened during the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, it was estimated that mental health problems cost UK employers up to £45 billion a year. Work-related stress is the number one reason given for sick days in the UK.
Legal duty and stress
Whether you are a small business or a large corporation, the law requires all employers to prevent work-related stress by promoting, supporting and sustaining good mental health in the workplace. The law requires all employers to assess potential risks from work-related stress and to take steps to tackle it where it is identified. This can reduce sickness absence, boost morale and therefore help improve productivity. Both managers and workers should take steps to spot and tackle the causes of workplace stress by:
- Looking out for colleagues who might be struggling and encouraging them to seek help
- Participating in discussions about mental health
- Promoting open and honest conversations.
HSE has created a Talking Toolkit to assist employers in speaking to their employees and taking the important first step towards preventing work-related stress and developing the actions and stress risk assessment employers need to comply with the law. www.hse.gov.uk/stress/talking-toolkit.htm
The toolkit has six templates for six different conversations. Each of these has a different theme designed to get managers and employees talking about issues that may be causing work-related stress or issues which could have the potential to become future causes if not managed properly. The earlier a problem is tackled the less impact it will have. Employers have reported improvements in productivity, retention of staff and a reduction in sickness absence when addressing work-related stress.
How Medwyn Occupational Health can help
We offer a range of services to assess, prevent and tackle work-related stress. These include:
- Advice regarding differentiating stress from anxiety, depression and more serious mental health disorders
- Advice regarding short-term role adjustments
- Advice regarding the affect an employee’s health may be having in the workplace or the effect the workplace may be having on the employee’s health
- Ensure the identification of all contributing factors to stress
- Specific health-related advice on how best to support an employee with workplace stress – ensuring they receive the right medical support
- Access to counselling and psychological therapy
- Development of work-related stress policy
- Advice and promotion of health and wellbeing at work.
- HSE’s guidance on work-related stress: www.hse.gov.uk/stress
- Mind has guidance on stress and how to manage it: www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/what-is-stress