Blog from the HSE: International Stress Awareness Day

Today marks International Stress Awareness Day and newly-published HSE statistics show an estimated 0.5 million people were affected by stress in 2016/17.

These statistics are important as they highlight why tackling work-related stress remains a priority health issue for HSE and why it forms a cornerstone of our recently launched Go Home Healthy campaign.

But, while it’s fair to say that many of us will have experienced some form of stress, do you really know what it is and how it can affect you and your organisation?

It’s important at this point to note that stress is not an illness itself, but if you’re under excessive or prolonged pressure, without time to recover, it can develop into a mental or physical illness. It’s been linked with heart conditions, stroke, diabetes, IBS, obesity and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression - and it can hit anyone at any level of an organisation.

In recent years, an industry appears to have built-up around ‘tackling’ work-related stress, with a focus placed on interventions for individuals experiencing problems. Examples of this include resilience or mindfulness training, massage/reiki, yoga, healthy living (five-a-day, smoking cessation or exercise) and so on. Whilst each of these will be helpful and may provide therapeutic value, they don’t address the root cause - i.e. the organisational work stressor(s).

As a regulator, the ethos of health and safety legislation is prevention – stopping a person from being injured is better for the individual, and makes business sense for the employer.

In line with this, we have developed a free-to-use approach that allows employers to assess the risk then identify the individual stressors and where the problems exist. This Management Standards approach also gives a target ‘standard’ to aim for and, when used properly, gives employers confidence that they are taking the appropriate actions to comply with the law. It promotes organisational solutions to tackle stressors that could affect groups of employees and thereby prevent cases of work-related stress.

Additionally, and in more practical terms, HSE is working in partnership with organisations within the public sector including education, health, and prisons, to support effective action on tackling work-related stress. This involves engagement and joint working to develop bespoke guidance and tools underpinned by the Management Standards approach. We have also reviewed our guidance and produced a new workbook to take users through the Management Standards step-by-step.

HSE is ‘spreading the word’ about the Management Standards approach through its work with the TUC to update its guidance for safety reps. We are also working with others to improve the usability and availability of the stress tools and are in the process of supporting pilots in three priority sectors. Finally, we also have delivered several training sessions to civil servants as we work to extend adoption of the approach across Government.

So, if you’re an employer, how much is work-related stress costing your organisation? Probably more than you think.

If you’re feeling stressed at work, raise the issue where you can with a manager, get in touch with your GP or speak with a trusted friend – seeking help early will limit the impact on you.

More information on the approach, and work-related stress, can be found here.

To see what HSE is doing to tackle work-related stress, view our health priority plan here.

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