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HiViz Jack here!

This month I’ve been watching with interest the BBC’s ‘In The Mind’ season which focused on various aspects of mental health. A vast number of topics were covered from anxiety to bereavement, depression to dementia and every disorder in between. It was fascinating to learn more about these conditions and educate myself on illnesses that are far more common place than we think.


This got me thinking about mental health in the workplace and in turn work related stress. According to the HSE the total number of cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2014/15 was 440,000. This resulted in 9.9 million working days lost equating to an average of 23 days lost per case. In 2014/15 stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost.


Interestingly, the HSE say the main work factors causing work related stress are workload pressures, tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support, so surely as employers there is more that can be done!


So exactly what is stress? I asked Fleur Binnington from Kite Counselling to explain.


‘There are many different reasons we feel stress as humans, some stress is actually good for us and keeps us on our toes and on the lookout for potential danger. Stress becomes a problem when it consumes us, starts to feel overwhelming and penetrates every waking (and sleeping) moment of our lives.’


There is no doubt that mental health still isn’t talked about as openly as it should be, and this is often the case in the workplace. I asked Fleur why this should be.


‘Work related stress can be difficult to manage due to the very nature that this stress is being created ‘at work’ – a place where we strive to be the best we can be and want to impress the boss, get praise and ultimately do a good job which may result in promotion. To admit we are struggling due to societies misconceptions and preconceived ideas about mental illness is often a definite ‘no no.’ To say ‘I’m stressed’ conjures up negative contagions of ‘I’m not coping, I’m weak’ therefore ‘I am a failure.’’


If not managed, work related stress does not confine itself to the workplace. A person suffering from stress carries it around all day every day and this can have a devastating affect at home too, as Fleur explains.


‘When stress becomes overwhelming the impact on family/social life can be huge. Stressed people can lose their ability to see things rationally, lose motivation to want to normal things as positivity slips away. Stress can also lead to anxiety and depression. Relationships ultimately suffer and the downward spiral continues.’


So what should employers be doing before work related stress affects their staff? There are several questions that employers should ask themselves in order to safeguard their staff against work related stress. These questions highlight many ways in which stress can be prevented before it takes hold of an individual or even a workforce. These are my top 10:

  1. Have you considered and understand the difference between stress and pressure? Stress is when there is an imbalance between the demands made on someone by work and the physical and mental resources that they have available to cope with those demands and pressure is simply a natural part of life.
  1. Are there excessive demands or conflicts in the workplace?
  1. Do employees have a say on how their work is carried out?
  1. Have employees had sufficient information, instruction and training in their work?
  1. Are employees involved and informed of any changes affecting their work?
  1. Does the company ensure there is no verbal abuse or physical violence or any threat of it?
  1. Has consideration been given to work-life balance i.e. life events, living conditions, alcohol/drugs, relationships, finance, illness/ bereavement?
  1. Have the signs of stress been considered i.e. irritability, anxiousness, fatigue, low mood, being withdrawn, and difficulty concentrating/remembering or learning new things? Difficulty with making decisions, relationships and overall negative thinking?
  1. Has consideration been given to stress behaviour such as nail biting, alcohol, drugs, poor time keeping, clumsy, negligent or self-negligent behaviour? A colleague who is withdrawn, violent/aggressive, working when unwell or with longer and frequent absences?
  1. Is there a system in place for workers to be able to raise concerns about themselves or others?


Question 10 is a big one, and perhaps the ultimate key to work related stress prevention as Fleur explains:


‘All employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and wellbeing of their employees so developing a culture within the workplace to say ‘it’s OK not to be OK’ is essential. Taking the fear out of admitting you are struggling makes it easier for someone to own their own feelings, the first step in gaining help. With early intervention, talking through the problems creating the stress can help the employee to feel understood, heard and helps them to feel less alone.’


Communication is key and together with the development of an action plan to encourage early reporting, rapid response, confidential discussions and agreed positive actions stress within your workforce could become a thing of the past!


For more information about Work Related Stress or any other potential risks to your business or employees contact HiViz Safety today!