What is Work Related Stress?
Stress is a major cause of sickness absence in the workplace and costs over £5 billion a year in Great Britain. The recently published ESRI survey in Ireland suggests that 17% of the workforce experienced stress in 2015, up from 8% in 2010 which was one of the steepest increases among the ten western European countries surveyed.
According to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, 90% of voluntary sector workers consider their job to be stressful. Teachers (88%) and workers in the health service (82%) also report high levels of stress. Construction workers have the lowest levels of stress at 63%.
Work-related stress affects individuals, their families and colleagues by impacting on their health but it also impacts on employers with costs relating to sickness absence, replacement staff, lost production and increased accidents.
However, there is a difference between pressure and stress.
We all experience pressure on a daily basis and we need it to motivate us and enable us to perform at our best. The Inverted U Model below is often used to explain the relationship between pressure, stress and performance.
According to the model (Yerkes-Dodson Law, 1908), peak performance is achieved when people experience a moderate level of pressure. Where they experience too much or too little pressure, stress levels increase, productivity decreases, sickness absence often increases and in general employee performance declines.
It’s when we experience too much pressure without the opportunity to recover that we start to experience stress.
The HSE in the UK define work related stress as ‘the adverse reaction a person has to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them’.
The HSA in Ireland defines Work Related Stress (WRS) as ‘stress caused or made worse by work’. It simply refers to when a person perceives the work environment in such a way that his or her reaction involves feelings of an inability to cope. It may be caused by perceived/real pressures/deadlines/threats/anxieties within the working environment.
What are the causes of Work-Related Stress?
The HSE in the UK have identified six main risk factors or causes of work-related stress:
- the demands of your job (e.g. too much work with insufficient resources; work very difficult, insufficient training, task beyond the individual’s capability but also if there is not enough work or work with insufficient challenge)
- your control over your work (e.g. Lack of control over the way work is done, lack of control over pacing and scheduling of the work)
- the support you receive from managers and colleagues (e.g. lack of support)
- your relationships at work (e.g. interpersonal conflicts)
- your role in the organisation (e.g. role not clearly defined or role conflict)
- change and how it’s managed (e.g. New technology, new regulations, new methods of working, changes in responsibilities, restructuring/down-sizing)
There are other factors that I believe should also be considered though including the following:
Culture of the Organisation:
- Working long hours, taking home work, inflexible work patterns, poor communication, management style, lack of consultation, etc.
- Attitude of organisation to stress (e.g. sign of weakness, stigma, etc.)
- Domestic problems or factors outside of work
- The person suffers from depression
- Some individuals thrive on change others are scared of it
- Some are motivated by tight deadlines, some people panic
- Not provided at induction or when changes are made
- Training not adequate
Poor lighting levels, inadequate welfare facilities, high noise levels, etc. can also contribute to work related stress.
Tackling Work Related Stress:
Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by carrying out a risk assessment and acting on it.
The HSE in the UK has produced its Management Standards, including targets for organisations to aim towards. There is one standard for each risk factor.
‘Demands’, for example, covers issues like workload, work patterns and the work environment, and includes guidance on what should be happening in your organisation if the Standard is being achieved.
The Management Standards are supported by the workbook which provides tips, advice and guidance from people who have gone through the process. It includes a selection of checklists to allow you to be sure that each step has been achieved before you move on.
The HSE website provides useful tools for tackling work related stress including the free workbook, a stress indicator tool, checklists as well as other useful templates including a stress management policy template.
It is also recommended that organisations also consider addressing the culture of the organisation by promoting: communication and openness; encouragement of workers to raise problems; work/life balance.
Tackling the physical environment is also important (e.g. by controlling noise levels, providing adequate welfare facilities, adequate lighting levels, etc.)
Where can we get more information on the standards and tools for managing work related stress?
There are several other excellent initiatives and guidance available for dealing with work related stress.
The HSA in Ireland have developed a guide for employers entitled Work Related Stress A Guide For Employers.
The Work PositiveCI initiative which focuses on employee wellbeing is another good initiative. Work PositiveCI can involve measuring workplace stressors, employee psychological wellbeing, critical incident exposure, as well as considering workplace performance indicators (e.g. absenteeism, turnover).
Organisations such as the Irish Prison Service, Eli Lilly, Dublin Fire Brigade have taken part in the Work Positive programme. Details of this can be obtained on the Work Positive website at https://www.workpositive.ie/.
Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM)
Critical Incident Stress Management, or CISM, is an intervention protocol developed specifically for dealing with traumatic events. It is a formal, highly structured and professionally recognised process for helping those involved in a critical incident to share their experiences, vent emotions, learn about stress reactions and symptoms and given referral for further help if required. It is not psychotherapy. It is a confidential, voluntary and educative process, sometimes called ‘psychological first aid’.
First developed for use with military combat veterans and then civilian first responders (police, fire, ambulance, emergency workers and disaster rescuers), it has now been adapted and used virtually everywhere there is a need to address traumatic impact in people’s lives.
There are several types of CISM interventions that can be used, depending on the situation. Variations of these interventions can be used for groups, individuals, families and in the workplace.
Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Network Ireland is based in the Institute of Technology Carlow and provides a forum for the promotion and exchange of best practice information on CISM and information on standards, availability and provision of training for CISM.
The Network, which is, is run by an inter-agency National Steering Committee (NSC) comprising a wide range of representatives from the north and south of Ireland, including statutory, voluntary, emergency, military, and other agencies.
You can find more information on CISM by clicking on the following hyperlink