Workplace stress

stress and anxiety


stress at work


Following previous blogs( thanks to everyone who read them and to those who have responded with comments ) today the blog is about stress in the workplace. Many of us myself included have suffered work related stress and until you have experienced how destructive it can be then it is difficult to imagine how much it can impact on your personal and work life.

For organisations stress is a difficult area. There is no quick fix and it requires an organisation to have good management structures, a culture of fairness and openness, health and safety standards in place and  emotionally intelligent management to deal with it effectively in the workplace. A big ask!!!.

The Health and Safety Executive define stress as ” The reaction people have to excessive demands or pressures arising when people try to cope with tasks, responsibilities or other types of pressure connected with their jobs, but find difficulty,strain or worry doing so.

Problems for organisations trying to deal with stress are that:

  • The individual may not recognise that they are stressed even if they have symptoms
  • The individual may not want to admit they have stress either to themselves or to their managers. This may be an organisational culture issue or an individual management issue.
  • The organisation may not have adequate systems in place for recognising and managing employees with stress.
  • Stress may not be work related but is affecting an individuals ability to perform their duties.

There are many causes of stress in the workplace such as bullying, poor management, long hours, unrealistic expectations, lack of assertiveness, lack of job satisfaction, inability to do the job. Whatever the cause ( and we can discuss these in subsequent blogs) stress is emotionally and physically disabling for the sufferer.

Stress related illness has gained a poor reputation in the workplace. I have heard it described as

” the new bad back” .

Some organisations and managers think it is used as an easy excuse for time off. This may be the case in a minority of cases but largely if you suffer from stress there is nothing easy about it. If you are suffering from stress it will become apparent either physically , emotionally or both over time. A few years ago I needed to take some time off work after a particularly difficult time and I was anxious about taking time off and also about the length of time it took me to feel better. Until that point I had never considered myself to be a person susceptible to stress. I soon began to realise its a strength not a weakness to recognise it and deal with it.

In March 2017 Unison published a survey about stress in the workplace. They surveyed 10,000 staff in public service about their personal experience of stress. The statistics are very revealing and definitely show that organisations do not give stress the priority it deserves. Although legislation requires employers to manage stress through the Health and Safety Executive stress management standards many organisations while having them in place fail on the effective implementation of them.

I see clients suffering from stress/ anxiety and related conditions on a regular basis and I am struck by how many of the stress conditions are related to work ( mainly in the public sector) and how many clients do not want to raise it as an issue at work in case it affects their job. Also I am often told they do not want to admit they are stressed to colleagues or managers in case they are perceived as weak or unable to perform. Some are worried it will be raised as part of their performance management.

Of course it may be but it should be done in a supportive way.

The survey shows that respondents cite the following causes of stress at work

  • Long hours
  • Bullying
  • Poor management practice
  • Lack of job security
  • Constant change
  • Unrealistic expectations and high workload
  • Poor culture in the workplace

Worryingly for organisations those surveyed said that the service they provide and therefore the service provided by the organisation suffers because of their stress levels.

High levels of stress equals ill people in the workforce and the impact of this often moves out of the workplace and into the home , family , personal relationships and social circles.

Some ( but not all) of the physical signs of stress are — commonly

headache, tiredness, sweating, palpitations, difficulty breathing, loss of concentration, disturbed sleep patterns, poor eating habits (loss of apetite or binge eating), frequent illness such as coughs,colds repeated infections.

more seriously – joint pains, nightmares, skin conditions, hair loss, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid problems, angina, heart attack , episodes of asthma.

Psychological symptoms are —

anxiety, panic, tear fullness, inability to cope, forgetfulness, sense of isolation, feeling of vulnerability. heightened sense of injustice, low morale, loss of interest, sense of failure, depression.

These signs and symptoms should be taken seriously and particularly if they are out of the usual behaviour.

If you are feeling stressed or if you have these symptoms but don’t know why – seek help as soon as you can.

Next time — the difference between good management and bullying