Signs, Causes and Impact of Stress at Work

Categories // HR and Training

As we prepare for fireworks and bonfires give a thought to the 4 November which is National Stress Awareness Day. We all say we are ‘stressed’ from time to time, but in 2014-15 the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) report on stress stated that 45% of all working days lost to ill-health and that’s 9.9 million work days, were lost to stress.  So what is stress, how do we spot people with it and what can we do to help?

Stress Facts

According to the HSE stress is defined as the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them.

If you work in public administration and defence which includes education, human health and social work, then you have a significantly higher chance of getting stressed. Within that, if you have a professional occupation you are statistically more likely to suffer from stress than a manager/senior manager or someone working in administration. If you work in construction or manufacturing you are less likely to become stressed. Health and teaching professionals have the highest rates of stress with 2500 per 100,000.

Women are more likely to suffer from stress at work with 920 per 100,000 compared to men at 590 per 100,000 employed.  Males aged 45-54 have a higher chance of being stressed at work with Females in the 35-54 age range having significantly higher rates than the average person. 

The size of the company for which you work also has an influence on your chances of stress. Larger companies with 250+ employees have higher stress levels, while those working for small firms with less than 50 employees have less. 

Signs of Stress

There are many signs of stress according to the International Stress Management Association. They can be split into four categories: psychological, emotional, physical and behavioural. 

Psychological signs include memory lapses, negative thinking, being vague, unable to sleep and easily distracted.  

Emotional signs include being tearful, irritable, defensive and angry. 

Physical signs you might notice include panic attacks, fatigue, nausea, colds, skin rashes, heart burn and indigestion.

Behavioural signs for example, absenteeism, becoming a workaholic, a change in appearance or self neglect and increased reliance on alcohol/smoking/caffeine/drugs etc.

Causes of Stress

I don’t think the survey raised any real surprises with those people with stress stating the highest cause of stress being workload followed by lack of support, violence (which I hadn’t expected), changes at work, role uncertainty and lack of control.  GPs also reported that workload was the predominant factor, but they also included work relationships and changes at work as significant factors. 

What can we do to prevent it?

The HSE recommend that a company has a Stress Policy in place which should include management standards and/or a Psychological Risk Assessment approach. They have a model policy on their website. 

Other things you could do is to improve your communication, stress as we have discussed can be caused by lack of clarity of a situation or project. Improving lines of communications can help this. 

Consulting your employees is also a key way to help prevent stress, particularly on issues where there could be major changes in the work place, which again has been highlighted as a cause of stress. 

A friendly workplace is very important to prevent stressful situations arising so a zero tolerance to bullying and harassment is essential, as well as consistent management and values.  

Stress Affects Profits

Stress costs, it affects profits and can also put other members of staff under pressure. On average a person who is suffering from work stress takes 23 days off sick. No matter what size your organisation, this must have a major effect on your bottom line, so simple steps taken now could help prevent stress and its impact in your workplace. 

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