ARTICLE BY: EMMA THOMPSON
There is no denying it: work-related stress, anxiety and depression are widespread issues. Work-related stress has climbed to its highest rate in almost twenty years.
According to statisticians, there were 1.4 million cases of work-related ill health inbetween 2017/18 – almost 550,000 of these cases were new or long-standing cases of work-related stress, anxiety or depression, or, 43.8 percent of all workplace illness. A grand total of 26.8 million (yes, million!) working days were lost between 2017/2018.
If our calculations are correct, this means that 57.3 percent (or 15.4 million days of the grand total of 26.8 million work days) were lost as a result work-related stress, anxiety and depression.
But what is stress?
Work-related stress is defined by the HSE as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other demands placed on them.’
When we feel stressed a hormone called Cortisol is released by the body. If this happens too often our body can no longer respond to stress, and we start to feel enormously fatigued. It can exacerbate heart problems, respiratory conditions and digestive issues to name just a few, and can even cause ongoing muscle tension.
In its manifestation, stress is not an illness – it is a natural human reaction, but if this reaction is prolonged over a long time it can lead to physical and/or mental ill health.
Stress is normally included in a group of conditions, along with depression and anxiety – referred to as common mental health conditions. Depression and anxiety are recognised medical conditions with clearly defined diagnostic criteria, whereas stress is not. However, there is a large overlap between the causal factors and symptoms of these conditions which is why they are normally grouped together.
So, what can I do if I’m stressed at work?
First thing’s first: go and speak to your GP – they have a wealth of experience and knowledge surrounding the issues of mental ill health. Before any issues escalate, speak to someone who may be able to help you. It’s important to remember that it’s not an employer’s or a line manager’s job to diagnose or treat stress, whatever its cause. If you are having problems, it’s important to get help as soon as possible.
If you have been battling the issues quietly, highlight the problems that you are facing at work in a calm and professional manner to your employers. People are not mind readers. In a vast majority of circumstances, as a department we find that if a complaint is not in black and white and written down on paper, employers are unaware of the origin of an issue. The earlier a problem is tackled, the less impact it will have.
Employers have duties under the “Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations,” 1999, to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities; and under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, to take measures to control that risk. Whether an employer is a small business or a large corporation, the law requires all employers to assess the risk of work-related stress and to put steps in place to tackle those risks.
Warm words are not going to fix a work-related stress problem. Employers need to do far more to reduce the causes of stress and support employees struggling to cope. This means tackling issues like excessive workloads and bullying in the office, toxic workplaces or even “banter” that has gone too far. The key is to have effective communication.
If, after all this is done I am still suffering from stress – what else can I do?
Call Oakwood Solicitors. We are happy to provide impartial advice, guidance and help to get you back on your feet.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
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