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We all experience some pressure at work, and the right amount can be motivating – but too much can lead to work-related stress, which is no small problem. The total number of reported cases during 2015/16 was 488,000. The total number of working days lost due to the condition during the same time period was 11.7 million, which equates to an average of 23.9 days per case. These figures demonstrate how important it is that work-related stress is taken seriously and treated with respect.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), stress is “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures and demands placed on them”. Symptoms include a pounding heart or palpitations, a dry mouth, headaches, odd aches and pains, and loss of appetite. Stress can hit anyone at any level of business and likewise is not confined to particular sectors, jobs or industries.
The HSE supports anyone who is responsible for tackling work-related stress in a company, whether that’s HR, a health and safety officer, line managers or trade union representatives. They believe that good management can help to reduce stress, and so developed the ‘Management Standards’ – a set of conditions that, if met, reflect a high level of health, wellbeing and performance within an organisation.
The six Management Standards cover the key sources of stress at work:
The Standards themselves are:
There are a number of things you can do yourself to minimise work-related stress. First of all, be mindful of how much work you can do – by taking on too much, you could end up doing nothing well. Don’t be afraid to say no! You may think you’re being helpful, but always saying yes is not a good long-term strategy.
Secondly, learn to recognise the physical effects of stress and do something about it before it makes you really ill. Don’t let it get too far – catching it early gives you a much better chance of identifying specific causes and working on effective prevention. Try to identify the difference between feeling an acceptable amount of pressure and feeling overwhelmed to the point where your health starts to suffer.
Whatever the source of your stress, speak to your manager or someone in your organisation who you feel comfortable with. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees, as well as a duty to conduct risk assessments for work-related stress. Make sure your employer fulfils this duty, even if they are the cause of your stress.
If the problem is not work-related, your employer may still be able to support you in some way, even if just to relieve some pressure at work while you resolve the stress in your personal life. Never be afraid to speak out. Your GP can also help to analyse the situation and refer you to more specialised help if necessary, so never feel that you are alone – there are many people who can assist you, even if they are not experts in employment law.
Both men and women are at risk from work-related stress, but there is a vast difference in how the two sexes deal with it. Women tend to talk about how they’re feeling, which helps to relieve some of the pressure, while men prefer not to discuss it and just hope that it will pass. One of the most significant reasons for this different reaction is hormones. When stress strikes, oxytocin is released from the brain in both men and women – but in much larger quantities for the latter. The nurturing and relaxing effects of oxytocin are therefore much more prevalent in women, giving them the upper hand when it comes to dealing with stress in a calmer way.
That’s not to say that women always deal with stress in the best way, however. They too can fall victim to unhealthy behaviours such as smoking and drinking too much, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. Good stress management in the workplace is therefore critical to all aspects of overall health, no matter who you are.
It’s important to remember that stress affects both mental and physical health, and is a very real risk. If you feel that the demands placed on you at work exceed your ability to cope, it’s time to seek help – after all, your job should never kill you!
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