Work-Related Stress and Mental Health
Most of us say that work drives us crazy sometimes, but work-related stress is far more common than you might think. Mental health problems can also arise from not having enough - or any - work, with the accompanying financial and psychosocial stresses. This is especially relevant in recent times, when many people have had to adjust their lifestyle to accommodate being furloughed or working from home. People who are suffering from depression and mental health issues must not be excluded from work. Appropriate steps should be taken to ensure their protection and safety.
In the 20-year period up to March 2020, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) reported that work-related stress affected 828,000 members of the UK workforce. There was a startling 37% rise in the year 2019-2020. The highest rates of stress are reported in service industries, closely followed by public administration and defence. Women are reported to suffer somewhat more than men, with interpersonal relationships coming second in reported stress factors to intrinsic job pressures.
For these reasons, it's important for every employer to be aware of the situation. Work-related stress and mental health issues should be incorporated into Health & Safety Management protocols. It's also the duty of employers to make provision for, and protect workers who are suffering from pre-existing mental health conditions.
What to look for
Work-related stress can take many forms, including long or inflexible working hours, an unbalanced workload, and poor channels of communication. Management practices are sometimes detrimental to a comfortable working environment. Sometimes, inadequate health and safety protection can make people feel vulnerable. Employees can feel unclear about exactly what they're supposed to be doing. They may feel powerless about how decisions are made that affect their work, or the place where they do it. In worse cases, they might be subject to workplace bullying, where various forms of psychological harassment are designed to exclude and victimise one member of the workforce.
If you've been working from home since the pandemic, you might not notice exactly how many hours you're putting in. Sometimes it's difficult to separate your working day from your other activities, and you end up putting in far more hours than you should. In these circumstances, it's a good idea to make a formal schedule of your work obligations and the time you should be spending on them. Make sure that your household activities are kept separate.
What to do about it
An increasing number of organisations, including the HSE and the World Health Organisation, are recognising the risks of work-related stress and mental health. Many are taking steps to tackle the problem. Primary intervention strategies include concentrating on your strengths and your job's positive aspects, as well as assessing and reducing work-related risks.
The HSE's Management Standards set out the factors to be assessed and the means of addressing them. Various useful tools are available here, including a workbook and specific advice for employees and line managers.
If you'd like to talk about work-related stress and mental health as part of your Health & Safety Management, we're always happy to help.