Next week marks the 20th anniversary of International Stress Awareness Week and there is no denying that many find work one of the most stressful elements of their lives. Over 11 million days are lost at work a year due to stress and it accounts for nearly 40% of work-related illness. This is why employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations Act from 1999, employers are obligated to prevent excessive levels of stress which can be destructive to workers’ mental health. Left unaddressed, stress induced-illness could result in the employer being liable for a claim in County Court for negligence.
The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) definition of stress is the “reaction people have to excessive demands or pressures, arising when people try to cope with tasks, responsibilities or other types of pressure connected with their job but find difficulty, strain or worry in doing so.” But for both employers and employees, it can be difficult to decipher what level of stress is considered normal and when employers really need to intervene. Based on this definition, while you perceive you have the ability and resources to cope with the demands placed on you, you are initially only subject to pressure. This pressure can build to stress when we do not have enough internal strategies and external support to prevent it.
To provide this support, every company should conduct a risk assessment in the workplace to review pressure placed on staff, but many do not consider stress as a potential hazard and therefore appropriate control measures are not always introduced. According to the International Stress Management Association (ISMA), this applies to a business if they have five or more employees and you must take effective action to manage and prevent it where possible. Factors to be considered include hours worked, job security, job satisfaction, pay, isolation or problems with the working environment. These are areas Herzberg claims are “Hygiene factors” in his two-factor theory of motivation as without these in place a member of staff cannot feel motivated and supported at work, which leads to a lower output. The fact that Herzberg’s theory was published in the 1960s shows that over half a century later, work stress is still an important area of discussion. So why is it not talked about?
A recent ISMA Stress Survey found that 94% of people experience work-related stress but only 32% feel that they can speak to their manager about it. Similarly, as students, we face a daily struggle with the external pressures of balancing lectures and independent study with part-time jobs and an active social life. Whilst many believe that university is the best time of your life, the stressful aspect of student life can often be overlooked; although businesses are being encouraged to take a more active approach dealing with stress in the workplace due to legislation, we should also be actively discussing the role that stress plays in our lives and use International Stress Awareness week to combat the stigma often associated with stress-related illness.