Are employers doing enough to tackle stress at work?

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Photo by stuartpilbrow via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

New statistics released by the mental health charity Mind this month, based on a poll conducted with 2,000 workers, have suggested that stressed workers are suffering in silence and employers aren’t doing enough to tackle stress.  The results of a poll carried out with workers showed that:

  • 36% believe that looking after staff mental wellbeing is an organisational priority yet a third (31%) of respondents do not feel able to talk openly to their line manager if they feel stressed;
  • 42% believe that stress is regarded as a sign of weakness or an indication of an inability to cope in the workplace;
  • only a third (32%) think that time off for stress is treated as seriously as time off for physical illness and nearly half (42%) believe that time off for stress is seen as an ‘excuse’ for something else.

Interestingly, Mind found a huge difference between the perceptions of managers and staff about how mental health is addressed in the workplace. Whilst only 22% of workers felt that their boss takes active steps to help them manage stress, the majority of managers seem to think that they are doing enough to support staff – over two thirds (68%) stated that they would find ways of helping staff who were stressed or experiencing a mental health problem.

The very nature of stress makes it problematic to deal with. It’s normal to go through periods of increased stress (e.g. work deadlines, etc.) but normally this stress dissipates soon after the stressful period is over. For some, however, stress becomes endemic. For these people, stress can continue for long periods and, in many cases, can actually worsen over time. They may not acknowledge their stress, either because they have become accustomed to it, or because it makes them uncomfortable to admit to themselves that they are struggling to cope.

Furthermore, even when people do become aware that they are suffering from stress, it’s not generally a clear-cut question of diagnosis and treatment. Dealing with stress often requires lifestyle changes, adjustments to work and changes of routine. The symptoms of stress are many and varied, and people experience stress is different ways, which means that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with stress doesn’t apply.

There is no denying that it is in everybody’s interests for stress issues to be managed in the workplace to prevent them escalating and causing ill health. Workers and employers need to be more aware of stress and more attuned to the way that people are feeling in order that stress issues can be nipped in the bud as early as possible. Advice can be sought by employers or employees from the free Health for Work Adviceline (0800 0 77 88 44) in a bid to keep people and organisations healthy and productive.

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