This week marks the return of the annual European Week for Safety and Health at Work, which this year focuses on the issue of work-related stress. As we have discussed previously, stress and related illnesses are a major problem in workplaces, and are estimated to cost the UK economy a staggering £26 billion pounds each year. With this is mind, we have invited senior lecturer in psychology and ‘stress expert’ Dr Ashley Weinberg to discuss what can be done to help ease the burden on both employers and employees.
Individuals, organisations and nations may face an uphill struggle in coming to terms with the continuing fallout of economic turbulence. Certainly the symptoms of psychological strain are likely to be more pronounced and may be witnessed at all levels both inside and out of the workplace. Although the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development has recorded a reduction in overall sickness absence from work in the last year, at the same time 40% of the organisations surveyed reported increased incidences of depression and anxiety among employees. This clearly indicates the capacity for negative aspects of work to take a toll on all individuals. Indeed it is believed that the costs of working while ill – presenteeism – are even greater than those linked to absenteeism. Financial estimates from NICE for an organisation employing 1000 staff, suggest that £835k per year may be lost due to employees’ experiences of psychological ill health, but a proportion of this could be saved by taking proactive steps such as those outlined below. The business case for public and private enterprises to address issues linked to stress in a positive and supportive manner, could not be more convincing.
The law encourages organisations in fulfilling their duty of care to employees to go beyond a baseline of providing psychological support services. Whilst access to counselling plays a valuable role in helping distressed individuals and encouraging them to remain in work, there is also a wide range of advice aimed at ensuring the workplace is well-designed to prevent new work-based problems occurring.
The World Health Organisation emphasises the potential for employers to foster a positive culture and reports such as ‘Engage for Success’ highlight the improved financial performance of organisations where employee consideration is high. Whilst certainty about the future of jobs may be hard to guarantee, it is important for organisations to take steps to communicate carefully and effectively with employees during periods of change. In fact organisations may not realise the significant role they can play in helping to generate a positive emotional climate. If guarantees about the future are understandably in short supply, then steps to facilitate staff wellbeing need not be.
This can be achieved in a number of ways. The Health and Safety Executive’s six standards for the management of stress encourage employers to ensure:
- Reasonable workloads
- Appropriate levels of control for employees over their work
- Support from the organisation for its staff
- Positive working relationships and constructive work behaviours
- Clarity of expectations about work roles
- Emotionally intelligent management of change
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has also recognised the implications for employee well-being of ensuring psychologically healthier working conditions. Promoting mental well-being at work through raising awareness should therefore be part of any strategy for organisational success. Offering flexible working arrangements and ensuring supportive leadership styles and management practices are known to contribute to positive employee psychological health (guidelines to encourage positive managerial behaviour are to be published by NICE in 2015). Whilst workshops on how to cope with stress and foster resilience are useful in the short-term, it is these longer-term approaches, which hold promise for tackling stress at source.
Ian Armstrong, EHS Manager, from Brookfield Multiplex Construction Europe and Paul Mooney, Health and Safety Manager, from Brookfield Multiplex Construction Europe will be speaking at RoSPA’s forthcoming Construction Health and Safety Conference 2015, tickets for which can be booked here.