Work-related stress


In our regular column, the experts from NEBOSH answer our readers’ HS&E questions.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) reported that 526,000 people suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17. What can I do to ensure the mental, as well as physical, wellbeing of my employees?

The impact mental health can have on a business and its people can be huge; in the manufacturing sector, HSE statistics show that stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 28% of all work-related ill health in 2016/17. More widely, 12.5 million working days were lost across all industries due to work-related stress in the past year, 49% of the total. Let’s not forget that presenteeism – namely underperformance in the workplace due to ill-health – can also have an adverse impact on business productivity.

Further, statistics published in 2016 suggested that stress, anxiety and depression:

  • Affected half a million workers (new and long-standing cases);
  • Caused 11.7 million working days to be lost;
  • Accounted for 37% of all work-related ill-health cases; and
  • Cost the economy £5.2 billion during 2014/15.

The HSE defines stress as being ‘a harmful reaction that people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work’. Something that might impact one person may not affect another, with factors like training, skills, experience and age all playing a role in how an employee handles pressure.

Some time ago, the HSE developed a really useful tool to help employers manage the causes of work-related stress. The Management Standards refer to six areas of work that can lead to stress if not properly managed; its approach requires managers, employees and their representatives to work together to improve certain areas of work which will have a positive effect on employee well-being. Under each area there are ‘states to be achieved’, which organisations should work towards. The approach is aimed at the organisation rather than individuals, so that a larger number of employees can benefit from any actions taken.

The six areas of work that can lead to stress if not properly managed were identified as:

  • Demands: workload, work patterns, and the work environment;
  • Control:How much say the person has in the way they do their work;
  • Support:encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues;
  • Relationships: promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour;
  • Role: Whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles;
  • Change: How organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.

Providing training to line managers is of course also a crucial step in managing workplace mental health. It can help them to identify, understand and support a person who is at risk of work-related stress. Our NEBOSH National Certificate in the Management of Health and Well-being at Work has been designed to give people the skills and knowledge needed to identify and manage employee health and well-being.

Developed for HR, health and safety staff, supervisors and managers, this qualification requires no prior health and safety knowledge or qualifications – making it ideal for people from across an organisation.

Whatever your role, you can play a part in creating a culture that puts employee health and well-being first. There is a wealth of training and guidance available to help you create a workplace where people feel supported.


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