It is being replaced by wellbeing, resilience and mental health as these appear to be a lot more ‘palatable’ for organisations. This means that it is up to the individual to be able to improve their own wellbeing by going to get their blood pressure checked or cholesterol check when an organisation has a health fair and point them in the direction of their EAP for counselling. Organisations will provide these health benefits but do not look at the impact of stress due to pressure or change such as downsizing or growth on the employees.
To say that stress is a problem within an organisation admits that there could be a problem with the culture and leadership within that organisation. Hence one of the reasons most organisations will not even mention the word. There have been high profile people who have had to take time out due to stress such as Lloyds Bank CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio who had been signed off sick due to ‘overwork’. Did no one within his organisation notice the signs? Often it is those close to us who notice the signs and the individual themselves can be in denial.
Prolonged stress can go on to be a long-term mental health condition and the focus for all organisations should be on managing stress first, then look at mental wellbeing and resilience. When they start with resilience trying to get employees ‘toughened up’ to deal with any change or issues in the workplace, it is in fact ignoring the main problem that stress is having a large impact on employees.
The statistics show that stress is not improving. Figures below from the Labour Force Study of 2016:
- Stress – 488,000 cases (40%) for all work-related illnesses.
- In 2015/16 stress, anxiety and depression resulted in 7 million working days lost at an estimated social and economic cost of £5.2 billion.
- Highest rates of work related stress – human health and social work, education and public administration and defence.
- Occupations – common across public service industries (healthcare workers; teaching professionals; business, media and public service professionals) show higher levels of stress as compared to all jobs.
Stress should be treated as any other workplace hazard within the workplace and it is an employer’s legal duty to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities; take measures to control that risk.
There are three main causes of stress within the workplace and these are:
- Primary causes – Leaders, managers, people
- Secondary causes – Culture, change, growth, downsizing
- Tertiary causes – Harassment, bullying, intimidation, insecurity, unexpected events, poor performance
One of the main reasons for work-related stress is line management as so often a manager has not been equipped or has the skills to fulfil the role. They may be excellent technically but managerially they do not have the appropriate skills. So often the manager will not admit they do not have the skills and their line manager will not deal with the issue although when dealt with proactively, it is better for the manager and the organisation and ultimately its image.
The HSE has now put Stress firmly back on the agenda and it is an employer’s legal responsibility to ensure that stress risk assessments are carried out when there is a risk to their employees. A generic stress risk assessment in some instances is so complex that not many have even read it and what does it in fact mean for the individuals who are under stress at work due to change The Management Standards are an essential starting point looking at the overall culture, which can include leadership, of an organisation.