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Work-related stress – cues, clues, solutions and benefits

26 June 2024

The HSE revealed 1.8 million UK workers suffered work-related ill health in 2022/23. Laura McCabe and Adam MacDonald emphasise employers' duty to identify, assess, and mitigate work-related stress for a healthier workplace.

At some point in our careers, most of us have felt the weight of varying degrees of stress in the workplace. Whether that is due to mistakes, personality clashes or unrealistic expectations, stress is a universal challenge that is likely to affect us all.

Recently, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has focused on the issue of stress as a major talking point, sharing more than 15 posts on this topic on their LinkedIn page in just one month. This heightened interest comes following their report, which revealed that 1.8 million UK workers suffered from work-related ill health in 2022/23, with nearly half experiencing stress, depression or anxiety.

Stress itself is a broad, physical and psychological reaction that can manifest in various different forms. The HSE defines stress as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them".

Recognising the signs of stress is crucial, and the HSE has outlined some key indicators for employers to watch out for. One obvious sign could be employees taking increased time off work as a means to escape a stressful environment. Naturally, an increase in staff turnover is also indicative, with staff opting to leave work entirely to avoid work-induced stresses. 

Whilst work absences and exits can be helpful identifiers, there are also signs that are present in the workplace itself.  A decline in performance can be a tell-tale sign, often stemming from a lack of motivation and additionally, noting significant changes in an employee's behaviour as the pressures of stress can result in colleagues becoming emotionally compromised and acting erratically. 

Legally, employers have a legal duty of care to protect employees from stress at work. The 'Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974' mandates that employers ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees by identifying and assessing the threats of work-related stress and also taking reasonable steps to mitigate and control these risks. 

There are responsibilities under the 'Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999' which require employers to conduct a "suitable and sufficient assessment" of all risks to the health and safety of their employees, including mental health risks. For employers with more than five employees, the findings of these assessments must be documented. 

Additionally, under the 'Equality Act 2010', employers can be held liable if stress-related injuries or illnesses are a result of discrimination or harassment at work.

Employers should actively encourage open communication about workplace stress to better understand the nature of stress in their workplace and should provide support and access to mental health resources for those struggling. 

Resolving issues of stress in the workplace has immediate benefits for all. People are happier to be at work, more likely to flourish in their working relationships, more engaged and in general, more likely to perform better. Improved working relationships can minimise work grievances and increase morale more generally. Moreover, a stress-free environment helps retain employees, saving time and money on recruitment and training. In short, a stress-free workplace is not just a healthier one – it's a more productive and efficient one where employees can thrive

"The article originally appeared in The Scotsman on 24th June 2024. Click here to view"

Written by Laura McCabe and Adam MacDonald

Further Reading