Taking stress seriously

Nov 03 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Workplace stress is the biggest cause of sickness absence in the UK, resulting in 13.4 million lost working days each year, a new study claims.

A report by Henderson Global Investors Sustainable & Responsible Investment (SRI) team says that almost one fifth of the UK’s workforce suffers from high stress levels.

The research, released to coincide with National Stress Awareness Day, calculates that stress costs employers in the region of £400 million a year and society as whole an estimated £3.7 billion.

The TUC, meanwhile, claims that stress levels in UK workplaces are on the rise, with six out of ten employees complaining that they are stressed while at work, a two per cent increase from 2002.

According to the TUC, the main reasons for stress at work are excessive or increased workloads, changes at work, staff cuts, long hours and workplace bullying.

This week also sees the launch of new stress management standards by the Health & Safety Executive to help employers manage and measure the problem. The standards will also enable regulators to enforce health and safety legislation, which requires employers to assess and manage risks of ill health to their staff – including stress.

The Henderson report argues that employers should take action to prevent stress in their workplace, not only because of the legal imperative, but also because there are significant business benefits of doing so.

Effective stress management can lead to reduced sickness absence, reduced staff turnover, improved productivity, better staff morale and loyalty, reduced risk of prosecution and/or compensation claims, enhanced corporate reputation and improved ability to attract quality staff, the report says.

It also points out that proactive human resource management - including stress - can contribute to long term shareholder value.

But according to research by the Institute of Directors (IoD), many UK businesses already have strategies in place to deal with stress at work and two-thirds do not think the problem is worsening.

Six out of ten IoD members say that they have no experience of their staff suffering from stress. Nevertheless, three-quarters say they have increased training and support to deal with the problem of stress at work.

“Excessive workloads, management style and organisational changes at work can result in stress at work," said Richard Wilson, the IoD's Head of Business Policy.

"However, most IoD members are now taking stress seriously and are adopting sensible approaches to reduce pressure on employees."

The IoD says that its memebers are employing an array of measures to combat stress in the workplace, including giving staff more responsibility, allowing them to work from home and introducing more flexible working arrangements.

Six out of ten say that they are giving their staff more manageable workloads, and a similar proportion are implementing a more effective appraisal process in their businesses.