British stiff upper lip hindering battle against stress

2004

The great British fear of revealing emotions is proving a major hurdle in tackling workplace stress, a survey has suggested.

According to HR consultancy Right Corecare, managers are often scared to talk about stress with their employees, either for fear of appearing weak or because they feel uncomfortable discussing something “emotional”.

The study of 280 HR professionals showed there are still large gaps in how companies feel they should be managing stress and what they are actually doing on the ground.

Most employers believe they are not getting it right when it comes to managing workplace stress, it found.

This is despite the fact there are now a raft of guidelines and advice available to bosses, most recently standards on managing workplace stress published by the Health and Safety Executive.

But, according to Right Corecare, three out of five employers believe they could manage workplace pressure better.

While just over one in ten – 11 per cent – were confident their organisation was “exemplary” when it came to handling pressure, the majority were concerned about their own failure to follow best practice. Most organisations believed both managers and employees were uncomfortable even talking about stress.

And most were concerned their managers simply lacked the skills to respond appropriately to stress, either in themselves or in their team members.

The main reason people did not talk openly about stress, according to those polled, was simply “fear”.

Respondents said they felt afraid to admit they felt stressed, and were worried about what effect such an admission would have on their self-image and career prospects at work.

Employees kept quiet because of “fear of the unknown and of getting an unsympathetic response”. There was also a perceived lack of sympathy or understanding from management.

This included a sense they were working in a “macho” environment where people could not speak freely or admit to weakness.

Management ignorance was another big concern. Many managers, it was felt, simply did not understand what stress was and what stressed people at work, let alone what to do about it.

Anna Shuttleworth, Right Corecare director of training, said: “Organisations often appear to be paralysed by fear and a lack of confidence in their own abilities when it comes to tackling the issues.

“Yet pretending a problem doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. If people feel they can’t talk about stress the problem goes underground, showing itself in absence, poor performance, sickness and so on.”

Managers had a key role to play in creating a climate where people felt they could speak openly be confident there would be an appropriate response, she added.