Workplace Wellnessby Liggy Webb
In 2006, 175 million working days were lost in the UK due to illness and absenteeism. Stress is believed to trigger 70 per cent of visits to doctors and 85 per cent of serious illnesses, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is a non-departmental body responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare.
Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.
A little bit of pressure can be productive, give you motivation, and help you to perform better at something. However, too much pressure or prolonged pressure can lead to stress, which is unhealthy for the mind and body (for details, see The symptoms of stress). Everyone reacts differently to stress, and some people may have a higher threshold than others.
Dealing with stress-related claims also consumes vast amounts of management time, so there are clearly strong economic and financial reasons for organisations to manage and reduce stress at work, aside from the obvious humanitarian and ethical considerations.
Stress management is therefore a key part of workplace wellness.
Stress at work
Stress in the workplace
- Reduces productivity
- Increases management pressures
- Makes people ill in many ways
- Provides a serious risk of litigation for all employers and organisations, carrying significant liabilities for damages, bad publicity and loss of reputation.
Clearly, the rising figures of stress-related illness are very concerning for the many organisations that keep the interest and wellbeing of their people at the heart of their business. Many employers attempt to provide a stress-free work environment, recognise where stress is becoming a problem for staff, and take action to reduce it.
Lord Philip Hunt OBE, when Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, emphasised the strong benefits to those individuals and organisations who effectively manage stress at work. He later gave full government backing for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Management Standards for Work-Related Stress, at a conference arranged to mark National Stress Awareness Day in 2005. Lord Hunt stated: ‘Over half a million people in the UK currently experience stress at a level they believe is making them ill, and this costs society over £3.7 billion per year. The government is committed to tackling this issue.’
The Strategy for the Health and Wellbeing of Working Age People was launched in 2009 and, as a result, the government now attaches great importance to the health and wellbeing of working age people.
Management standards (HSE)
The Management Standards represent a set of conditions that, if present, reflect a high level of health wellbeing and organisational performance. They
- Demonstrate good practice through a step-by-step risk assessment approach
- Allow assessment of the current situation, using surveys and other techniques
- Promote active discussion and work in partnership with employees to help decide on practical improvements that can be made
- Help simplify risk assessment for work-related stress by identifying the main risk factors, helping employers focus on the underlying causes and their prevention and providing a yardstick by which organisations can gauge their performance in tackling the key causes of stress.
In my view, it is one of the best government initiatives ever to have been implemented; if more organisations operated to these standards, a great deal of stress would be reduced and the risk of serious illness mitigated. I remember a few years ago working for an organisation that put a great deal of pressure on their staff to perform. Little was put in place to protect the wellbeing of the people, and illness and absenteeism went through the roof. We were not allowed to use the term stress because, apparently, this was self-induced. (This can be true, but it’s certainly not always the case.)
If organisations take a more responsible approach by operating to the HSE Management Standards and individuals take a more proactive and responsible approach to personal stress management, then the union of the two intentions could well improve the current rate of stress-related illness and absenteeism which is clearly choking the economy.
The Management Standards define the characteristics, or culture, of an organisation where the risks from work-related stress are being effectively managed and controlled.
How to prevent stress
It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.
As they say, prevention is better than cure, so let’s take a proactive approach to stress and see how it can be prevented.
Stress and depression
Stress and depression are often linked. Depression is a very wide topic and it is not possible to do it justice here. Mental illness is becoming more and more of an issue in the workplace. The fact that you can’t see it is possibly one of its most frustrating aspects.
Health professionals use the terms depression, depressive illness or clinical depression to refer to something very different from the common experience of feeling miserable or fed-up for a short period of time.
Some people who do not experience it themselves can be quite insensitive and intolerant and misinterpret it as weakness of character, a negative attitude or hyper-sensitivity. There is, however, an increasing awareness of the illness and, despite the fact that it is still dogged with negative connotations, it seems that more and more people are having the courage to be more open about it, which can only help others.
Depression is, in reality, quite a common condition and about 15 per cent of people will have a bout of severe depression at some point in their lives. However, the exact number of people with depression is hard to estimate because many people do not get help, or are not formally diagnosed with the condition.
Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men, although men are far more likely to commit suicide. This may be because men are more reluctant to seek help for depression.
Depression can affect people of any age, including children. Studies have shown that two per cent of teenagers in the UK are affected by depression, and the suicide rate is increasing.
People with a family history of depression are more likely to experience depression themselves. However, it is now acknowledged that high exposure to stress can trigger chemical imbalance in the brain and tip people into depression. It affects people in many different ways and can cause a wide variety of physical, psychological and social symptoms.
It is learning to handle depression that is the key.
It is very important that you seek professional advice if you believe that you are suffering with the illness, as you may well need to be prescribed medication.
However, in many cases, medication in isolation may not be enough, so here are some additional strategies that you can put in place.
Also see the topic on Psychological Health at Work.
Summary of how to manage stress
- Understand your stress trigger.
- Take proactive steps to address stress before it affects you.
- Use breathing techniques.
- Learn to use relaxation techniques.
- Reduce caffeine.
- Reduce alcohol.
- Quit smoking.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Manage blood sugar levels.
- Eat a good breakfast.
- Sleep six to eight hours a day.
- Drink camomile tea.
- Keep well hydrated.
- Use positive self-talk to manage stress.
- Time-manage effectively.
- Learn to negotiate.
- Exercise and keep active.
- Don’t spread your stress.
- Maintain a positive attitude.