Stress Awareness Month – April 2022

General Safety By Matthew Coombes

Workplace stress can have a hugely negative impact on our health and wellbeing, and left unmanaged it can slowly corrode a company, eating into productivity, reputation and profits.

What is stress?

Workplace stress commonly gets confused with workplace pressure.

Experiencing pressure to complete work, for example working to a deadline, to a certain standard, or a set amount of work, can be motivating, beneficial and provide a sense of achievement once completed.

However, too much pressure, or too much workload in comparison to the resources available to you can cause stress, and the negative health effects that come with it.
Inversely, not enough pressure and structure to your workload, can also cause stress.

NB: Resources – This includes, support, time, equipment (including software), information, and in some cases high pressure work can be offset with increased remuneration, but this is usually based on the individual.

The negative impacts of stress

Psychological impacts of stress

When stress begins to set in it can immediately impact how we think and our cognitive abilities. We can become more easily confused, suffer from headaches, lose our ability to concentrate, get words mixed up, and become more easily frustrated and upset.

All of these things can immediately impact on our productivity at work, and our working relationships, resulting in increased tension and reduced performance. This can then have a cyclical effect, as the individual experiencing workplace stress worries about their performance and their social interactions at work, creating more stress.

Physical impacts of stress

Stress can increase our blood pressure, reduce our ability to heal, upset our stomach, cause chest pains, muscle tension, and cause our heart to race.

These physical impacts can be uncomfortable, long lasting, negatively impact existing health conditions and may result in requiring time off for health care appointments, and unauthorised absence from work due to not being able to cope with the physical and mental impacts of workplace stress (absenteeism).

Prolonged impacts of stress:

Experiencing stress for a long time can lead us to develop mental health conditions, most commonly depression and anxiety. Other conditions can be caused by stress, such as workplace stress leading to burnout or a psychological breakdown, and individuals suffering with workplace stress caused by an individual or circumstance can develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Each of these impacts can have a significant and long-lasting impact on the employee’s health, personal life and their productivity at work, and it is morally wrong that your employees can develop long lasting health conditions as a result of work.

UK Law

In the United Kingdom, employers have a legal duty to effectively manage workplace stress under the following legislation:

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Regulation 3. “(1) Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of –
(a) the risks to health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are working;”

This legal duty means that it’s your job as an employer to identify and manage risks associated with your workplace. The negative health effects associated with workplace stress are diverse and impactful and should be suitably assessed and managed.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 –
Section 2. General Duties
(1) “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

In addition to specific management duties, there is the overarching duty of each employer to ensure the health of all employees, which will by nature include preventing workplace stress.

The Equality Act 2010 –
Persons who have mental impairments such as anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions can be at higher risk of the negative impacts of stress, and if it is left unmanaged, they may end up developing comorbid conditions (e.g. having depression and developing anxiety) or it may worsen their existing condition, causing them to reduce their access to work (reducing/changing hours), or leave employment entirely.

These mental impairments are a ‘protected characteristic’ under The Equality Act 2010, and a failure to provide reasonable and suitable adjustments to ensure the continuation of and access to work for individuals in your employment who have disclosed their impairments may be seen as discrimination.

NB: This is not an exhaustive list and other legislation such as The Working Time Regulations 1998 can be directly related to the topic of stress.

What can be done?

Improve wellbeing

Wellbeing has many definitions but a positive experience of wellbeing can be seen as a whole body, mind and soul feeling of wellness. Improving your wellbeing will often mean working towards being physically healthy or as physically healthy as you want to be, ensuring that your mind is not an obstacle to your own self achievement, and that you have a sense of purpose in what you do.

Improving wellbeing can be a great way to reduce experience of stress within the workplace. A holistic approach to improving wellbeing can help employees both inside and outside of work, helping to reduce the stress that they experience at work and at home and providing them with the tools that they need to deal with pressure.

ACT have been delivering the NEBOSH Working with Wellbeing training course over the last year and have had some really fantastic feedback from learners. It is a great course to improve your understanding of workplace wellbeing, learn how to measure performance, and implement changes in the workplace to benefit wellbeing.

Throughout April 2022, we will be offering a 20% discount on this course for #StressAwarenessMonth using code STRESS20

Manage stress

An effective management of stress in the workplace will be based on both organisational and individual level controls. You will need policies in place to encourage management to conduct appropriate risk assessments of stress, and stressors in the workplace, a means to measure performance and indicators of stress, resources to implement changes which are consistent with your policies and practices and the determination to continually, proactively manage stress.

A model that you can use for this is the Plan Do Check Act approach to management which is used to continually and structurally measure performance and take action relevant to what you have found. Stress management and psychosocial risk management can be added into your existing management system.

In addition, if you have adopted a standardised system such as ISO 45001, the ISO have produced guidance for psychosocial risk management in the form of the ISO 45003 Occupational Health and Safety Management – psychological health and safety at work – Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks.

This guidance document is not a certified standard in its own right, but provides a wide range of internationally applicable considerations and guidance for the effective management of psychosocial risks including stress.

Further reading

HSE Stress Talking Toolkits – The talking toolkits have been created by the HSE to help managers talk directly with workers as part of their approach to managing workplace stress.
National Health Service – The UK’s NHS have great information on the topic of stress that can help you to understand the physical, mental and behavioural impacts associated with stress.

ACT Articles

I have written many articles relating to the subject of workplace stress and other related topics, each one contains information relevant to the workplace and where appropriate I provide context relating directly to the workplace, employee experiences and management.


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