Stress in the workplace:
Stress has been the number one cause of workplace absence for quite a few years now and, besides the pain and distress it causes to employees it also costs employers and the economy a vast amount of time and money in lost productivity. Employers have a duty of care to employees that they must fulfil as well as Statutory duties under Health and Safety regulations to risk assess their workplace for preventable stress factors and ensure they meet their obligations under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments for those who are suffering longer term stress which impairs their day to day activities.
Statistics for work related stress:
- Suicide is the number one killer for men aged between 20-49
- 15% of people experience mental health problems in the workplace
- Women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men (19.8% versus 10.9%)
- Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity (WHO)
- Harassment and bullying at work are common reported problems and can have a substantial adverse impact on mental health – (WHO)
How to tackle stress in the workplace and what can be done
- For every £1 put into the treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of £4 in improved health and productivity.
- A summary of key findings from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) in their annual survey showed slightly more organisations are taking a strategic approach to employee wellbeing by having a stand-alone wellbeing strategy in support of their wider organisational strategy (44%, up from 40% in 2019)
- Fewer report they are much more reactive than proactive (41%, down from 44% in 2019)
- Line Managers are more likely to have bought into the importance of wellbeing however (58%, up from 51% in 2019)
- They found that most organisations are “trying to take a holistic approach” to supporting people’s mental health and wellbeing with mental health the most common priority, but financial wellbeing is still neglected as a priority area by most employers.
What is the role of Occupational Health in tackling work related stress?
The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) found that occupational health services are included amongst organisations “most common and effective methods of managing long-term employee absence”. Just under three quarters of organisations provide occupational health services to employees, mostly through outsourcing arrangements that most commonly focus on assessing fitness to work (80%) and providing professional diagnosis and prognosis for those off sick (77%).
Just under half (45%) agree/strongly agree that their organisation does not make enough use of the specialist knowledge of their occupational health provision to “promote good work”.
The CIPD found that “people with professionals obviously value the specialist services offered by occupational health professionals, but too few organisations are making the most of this valuable medical expertise. Instead of primarily viewing occupational health as a referral service for challenging sickness absence cases, more organisations could benefit from tapping into occupational health at an earlier, preventative stage to help develop their health and wellbeing programmes.”
What is the way forward for employers and line managers to deal with employee workplace stress?
In occupational health, we spend most of our day assessing difficult cases of people struggling at work or actually off sick because of their mental health (or other health issues) but the mental health ones can be the most rewarding and fruitful to refer. It is perfectly possible to give people all the help and support they need through occupational health, and liaising with their GP if need be and occupational health can provide mental health counselling and CBT and other talking services. There is no doubt that with the right combination of treatments (usually a combination of talking therapy, exercise and/or medication) people can dramatically improve over a 12 week period with a small improvement at three weeks, a very good improvement by 6-8 weeks and full improvement by 12-16 weeks.
We make regular use of exercise as a therapy because it can be as good as the best medication that we have for mental health. If people can do cardiovascular exercise for example, a minimum of three times per week for 30 minutes with the heart raised, this is proven to be as effective as sertraline, as is four or five times a week. Lesser amounts, once or twice a week, can be very helpful in keeping the mental health resilient and helping prevent dips in mental health so we can use this to help workforces plan ahead, doing mental health training for Managers for example and doing good health promotion programmes if workplaces engage our services. There is so much that can be done to strengthen the mental health of the workforce. A happy workforce is a productive workforce which is more likely to take less absence and is likely to be more productive during the working day.
The crucial role of Managers in alleviating employee workplace stress
The role of Managers is equally more important, even than occupational health and training them on how to spot mental health problems and how to avoid harmful practices to the mental health in the first place can be invaluable. Short sessions can be delivered over an hour or two over lunchtime or half day or full day sessions to cover more ground. Organisations which take steps like the following are much more likely to be able to prove they are doing everything they can to help support their colleagues in the workplace, which can be invaluable if there are any legal cases or visits from the HSE.
- Stress management training for Managers.
- Counselling/CBT sessions for stressed workers.
- Resilience training for employees.
- HSE stress risk assessments – we would actually view these as a mandatory and very helpful exercise at the outset of any consideration of optimising your stress management policies.
Finally, although our business is mainly dealing with stress once it has become a problem for either Managers or employees on the shop floor, lots of good work can be done to risk assess and help prevent problems before they arise and organisations can reap the benefits of this in their absence levels and productivity levels.
You can find more information on our services for work related stress on our occupational health absence management page. You can also find out further details here about our comprehensive occupational health services for your business.
If you would like to make a booking for a teleconsultation for an employee suffering from work related stress then call us on 0191 653 1001 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.