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What is work-related stress?

schedule 7th September 2017 by Ben Piper in Virtual College Last updated on 24th April 2018

Woman stressed at work

Stress and anxiety caused by work-related factors can have a detrimental impact on how well your workforce performs, resulting in increased absences and lower productivity.

Work-related stress is real. And it is an issue that companies and organisations across the globe have brushed swiftly under the carpet for far too long. According to a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2016, the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety was 488,000, with a prevalence rate of 1,510 per every 100,000 workers.

The HSE report also claimed that the total number of working days lost due to work-related stress during this time was 11.7 million days, equating to an average of 23.9 days lost per case.

While during 2009 and 2010 the number of working days lost showed a generally downwards trend, since then, this figure has remained fairly stagnant. However, at a time when one in four UK adults will experience mental illness during their lifetime - according to the annual health survey for England - surely businesses and organisations in the country should quickly act in addressing this problem?

But what does work-related stress mean?

When projects are executed well and when every day work runs smoothly and effectively, working can be enjoyable and even good for our wellbeing. It gets us out of the house, interacting with others and generally engaging in stimulating and collaborative activities. But often, things don’t run as smoothly as we would want them to.

When work is designed poorly, unorganised or mis-managed, employees can sometimes develop work-related stress, because they are unable to cope with the demands that are being placed on them. Stress can then cause illnesses such as depression, anxiety and insomnia, which are linked to high levels of sickness, absence and staff turnover.

The HSE claims that in 2016, stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of days lost due to ill health. And it’s not just those working at the top levels of a business who suffer from this. Work-related stress can hit any employee at any level of the business, no matter what the sector or job role is. This is why businesses in every industry must act to address the problem.

How can we prevent work-related stress?

The survey by HSE found that the main work factors cited by respondents as causing work-related stress were workload pressures such as tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.

In an attempt to tackle the current epidemic of work-related stress, the HSE developed ‘management standards’ that represent a set of conditions that require a high level of health, wellbeing and organisational performance. In short, they cover the primary sources of stress at work.

In addition to this, the HSE recommends that businesses demonstrate good practice through a step-by-step risk assessment approach, providing surveys for feedback, as well as promoting active discussion between employees and managers about work conditions.

Managers can also help simplify risk assessment for work-related stress by showing employees the main risk factors; helping them focus on the underlying causes and their prevention; and identifying a strategy where organisations can gauge their performance in tackling the key causes of stress.

Another way to tackle work-related stress is to provide managers and employees with training on the subject. At Virtual College we offer courses to help managers identify factors that negatively affect wellbeing and cause stress, so that they can spot stress signs and learn how to prevent them.

See our list of management courses.

BBC News
HSE - Statistics
CIPD – Stress Q&A’s
HSE - Further advice

Related resources

Ben Piper - Virtual College

Author: Ben Piper

Ben is a member of the Virtual College marketing team. He has a degree in economics and writes about business and education issues. In his spare time he loves food, drink and films.

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