HSE report: stress at work is costing billions

The huge cost of stress at work

Workplace stress is costing Britain billions and causing some 150,000 Britons to take at least a month off each year.

The UK Government’s Health and Safety Executive has made stressbusting a priority issue and published guidance to help bosses tackle stress at work.

Stress-related illness is costing Britain up to £3.75 billion a year and causing the annual loss of 6.5m working days, according a major new report published by the UK Government’s Health and Safety Executive.

One in five Britons, says the HSE, describe their work as ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ stressful, while some half-a-million Britons are suffering from work-related stress, anxiety or depression at levels that make them ill.

Every year some 150,000 people in Britain take at least a month off for ailments caused by stress at work. Prolonged or intense stress, says the HSE, can lead to mental and physical ill-health, such as depression, back pain and heart disease.

Workers aged between 34 and 44 suffer the most, while the problems worsen the longer they stay in the same job.

Advice for bosses

Meanwhile, says the HSE, most employers have little idea how to tackle the problem.

The HSE has therefore published a new stressbusting guide for bosses. Tackling Work-Related Stress: A Managers’ Guide To Improving And Maintaining Employee Health And Well-Being is for managers in organisations employing over 50 people.

It provides a step-by-step approach to tackling the causes of stress in the workplace. It helps bosses to identify who is at risk and what steps they can take to prevent problems occurring, as well as outlining employers’ statutory obligations and making the case for taking effective action now.

Managers, says the guide, should encourage staff to take their daily meal breaks and their full annual leave entitlement, while discouraging them from working long hours or taking work home on a routine basis.

The guide examines:

  • Culture: how supportive the organisation is
  • Demands: the load placed on individuals and their capacity to handle it
  • Control: the amount of say an individual has in how work is carried out
  • Relationships: how people relate to one another in the workplace
  • Change: within and outside the organisation and its effects on workers
  • Role: the need for an employee to be clear about his/her place in the organisation
  • Support and training: its importance in doing the job well and ensuring good mental health

Practical advice for tackling stress

The HSE defines work-related stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them’.

Elizabeth Gyngell, spokesperson on stress for the HSE, comments: ‘Work-related stress is a huge occupational health problem facing Britain today, inflicting a heavy toll both in financial cost and human suffering. Managers have a key role to play in reducing this toll – there is so much they can do which is both simple and effective. This guidance offers them practical advice on how to tackle stress issues head-on.

‘We recognise that there is considerable pressure in the modern competitive work-place, but there is a difference between the buzz people get from doing a busy job and staff simply being unable to cope with the strains placed upon them. A burnt-out workforce is an unproductive workforce and it is in no-one’s interests to find themselves in this situation.

‘The spread of good management practice is absolutely vital and I would urge organisations to work alongside us to share knowledge and develop practical solutions.’

Ms Gyngell concludes: ‘The guidance is the first step towards producing management standards which will establish benchmarks for measuring employers’ performance in preventing work-related stress and will make enforcing stress-related health and safety offences easier. We will be developing these in partnership with business over the next few years.’

Advice for employees

In addition to the new guidance, an employee leaflet is also available. Tackling Work-Related Stress – A Guide For Employees explains what stress is and how it affects people, providing details of what individuals can do at work to help their manager in tackling the problem.

HSE, meanwhile, is also collaborating with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) on producing guidance on work-related stress for human resource professionals.

Further information

  • Copies Of Tackling Work-Related Stress A Managers’ Guide To Improving And Maintaining Employee Health And Well-Being can be ordered online at www.hsebooks.co.uk, or are available from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2WA.
  • You can call HSE’s InfoLine on 08701-545500, or write to HSE Information Services, Caerphilly Park, Caerphilly CF83 3GG.

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