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The dangers of workplace stress


Today, April 28th, is World Day for Safety & Health at Work, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) annual day to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases around the world. The event is an effort to raise awareness and focus international attention on issues of particular importance, and encourage a health and safety workplace culture that can reduce the number of workplace injuries and deaths.


This year, the focus is on the critical issue of workplace stress, an issue which affects many workers from different professions around the world. Factors such as increasing working hours, greater levels of performance expectations, and overall work environment can all play a significant role in raising the level of stress individuals feel under while working.


This stress might be defined as the physical and mental response to the imbalance between an individual’s perception of the demands of their role, and their perceived resources and capacities to cope with the same demand. The effects can differ wildly between individuals, but can have significant health effects – from health problems related to the heart, to depression, anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders.


As a result, workplace stress will increase worker absences and employee turnover, while reducing employee engagement and lowering the overall productivity of an organisation. It can impact a business’ bottom line and damage its reputation. It is, therefore, not only a very grave personal health risk, but also a considerable business problem for many organisations.


The UK’s Labour Force Survey for 2014/15, for example, recorded 440,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, a prevalence rate of 1,380 per 100,000 individuals. It also discovered that 9.9 million working days were lost to workplace stress in 2014/15, equating to an average 23 days per case. Furthermore, stress accounted for 35 per cent of all work-related ill heath cases and 43 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health.


What can be done?


As an employer, there are a number of ways to reduce the level of stress that employees feel under when they step through the office door in the morning. These include:


- Increase employee control over tasks


As we have heard, employees become stressed when they feel overwhelmed by duties and tasks being piled on them. By delegating some authority and control, it is possible to provide the employee with a greater sense of being in charge of their own workload and time, reducing the sense of helplessness that might induce stress.


- Encourage interaction


People spend an awful lot of their lives with their co-workers. A better workplace atmosphere, where people actually enjoy spending time and socialising with their colleagues, will raise collaboration and effectiveness, as well as increasing overall levels of engagement. Providing opportunities for co-workers to get to know each other in a less formal setting are, therefore, very important.


- Be aware of the issue


Organisations should prepare their managers and leaders to be aware of the risks and warning signs of workplace stress. This might mean conducting a risk assessment – as they would with other workplace risks – or could be achieved through targeting managers’ training at increasing understanding of the impact their conduct, decisions and the culture they create can have on stress levels.
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