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CIPD: Stress In The Workplace Factsheet

Suff, R. (2021) Stress in the workplace. Factsheet. London: CIPD. Available in full at https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/culture/well-being/stress-factsheet, reproduced here with the permission of the publisher, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in London (www.cipd.co.uk).

Stress can affect an employee's physical and mental health, altering their behaviour and relationships with colleagues. As a commonly cited cause of long-term absence from the workplace, its key for Managers to know how to recognise and manage the factors, that can cause work-related stress. Conducting stress risk assessments and reviewing the responsibilities and activities included in job roles are good starting points, to reduce the likelihood of stress developing.

This factsheet offers information on UK employers' duties under health and safety law and concludes with guidance on how to deal with stress at work, providing information on prevention, early intervention and stress policies.

CIPD's Purpose and Vision

Championing better work and working lives

We believe work can and should benefit everyone- both businesses and individuals

Purpose and Vision

Established in 1913, CIPD is a registered charity to promote the management and development of people, through activities such as:

  • influencing policy and practice
  • establishing an internationally recognised gold standard for HR and people development

What is work related stress?

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work-related stress as: ‘The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work'.

Over a prolonged period and/or at an elevated level, stress can result in higher sickness absence, lower staff engagement and reduced productivity, negatively impacting an organisations overall performance.

According to the HSE, 17.9 million working days were lost to stress, anxiety or depression in 2019/20 and can affect people both mentally, in the form of anxiety and depression, and physically in the form of heart disease, back pain and alcohol and drug dependency’ according to ACAS.

Encouragingly, health and wellbeing in the workplace is being given more attention and stress is now a commonly recognised issue. By building employee resilience and supporting staff experiencing stress, can help retain a valued employee and enable them to perform at their best in the long-term. With organisations taking steps to tackle stress amongst their staff, employers are helping individuals bring about a better balance to their lives, both professional and personal.

Our 2021 Health and wellbeing at work survey shows the main causes of employee stress include:

  • Workloads/volume of work.
  • Management style.
  • New work-related demands or challenges due to homeworking as a result of COVID-19.
  • Non-work factors - relationship or family issues.
  • COVID-related anxiety, for example fear of contagion in the workplace/commute.
  • Non-work factors – personal illness or health issues.
  • Poor work-life balance due to homeworking as a result of COVID-19.
  • Relationships at work.

Stress in the time of coronavirus?

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised serious concerns about both people’s mental and physical wellbeing. The fear and uncertainty about the pandemic can be exacerbated by work-related pressures on people, for example, new ways of working and increased demands but decreased levels of control people feel they have, leading to stress.

Employers should ensure they have an effective framework in place to detect signs of stress and to support people’s mental health as appropriate. Line Managers need to have the knowledge and confidence to spot the early warning of signs of stress, such as changes in behaviour and/or performance levels.

All employees should be encouraged to have a good self-care routine including a healthy approach to diet, relaxation and sleep which can help to reduce stress levels.

Our guide Coronavirus (COVID-19): Mental health support for employees provides advice for employers.

Signs of stress to look out for can be a decline or inconsistent work performance, heightened emotional responses, a lack of engagement and withdrawal, increased use of alcohol or nicotine and a lack of awareness or attention to their own personal appearance or wellbeing.

The UK legal position

Under UK health and safety legislation and common law, employers have a duty of care to employees. HSE supports this by saying that employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it.

There is no one statute specifically covering the issue of workplace stress: a number of laws are relevant, and much of the law governing stress has evolved from case law rather than legislation. It’s important for employers to keep up to date with the implications of recent cases as the law in this area is continually evolving.

Dealing with stress at work

By adopting a ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach, employers can intervene and support employees before a problem becomes significant or when someone goes on sick leave.

The HSE’s Management Standards provide guidance for employers on how to identify and manage the causes of work-related stress in six main areas:

  • Demands: for example, workload and the working environment.
  • Control: for example, how much say someone has over their job.
  • Support: for example, level of supervision and resources available to do the job.
  • Relationships: for example, promoting positive working to help prevent conflict.
  • Role: for example, making sure people understand their role and how it fits in the organisation
  • Change: for example, how organisational change is managed and communicated.

Our 2021 Health and wellbeing at work survey report identifies the most common methods used to identify and reduce stress in the workplace:

  • Employee assistance programme.
  • Staff surveys and/or focus groups to identify causes.
  • Flexible working options/improved work–life balance.
  • Risk assessments/stress audits.
  • Training aimed at building personal resilience (such as coping techniques, mindfulness).
  • Training for line managers to manage stress.
  • Involvement of occupational health specialists.
  • Written stress policy/guidance.
  • Stress management training for the whole workforce.

The role of line managers

A line manager is in the best place to understand the demands on a team member, as well as their personal needs and circumstances; they are therefore in a unique position to identify and deal with potential triggers for stress. They are also very likely to be the first port of call if a team member is feeling stressed and needs support. Our tips to support managers to minimise stress in their teams outlines six simple steps:

  • Get to know your team better.
  • Lead by example to promote healthy working habits.
  • Review workloads, duties and responsibilities.
  • Reflect on your management style.
  • Discourage ‘presenteeism’ in your team.
  • Manage the mental health of your team while remote working.

Useful contacts and further reading

Dealing with Stress in the Workplace http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=6062

Stress at Work http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/index.htm

International Stress Management Association http://www.isma.org.uk/

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy http://www.bacp.co.uk/