Stress is something that Covid-19 has definitely brought with it, and this stress makes its way into our working lives every day. However, with or without a pandemic, work-related stress is a serious problem, and it's on the rise.
Data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has revealed that the number of cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety are steadily increasing. They reported that over 600,000 workers suffered from these factors in 2018/19, and 12.8 million workdays have been lost as a result.
The industries that came out on top for stress figures were public administration and defence, health and social work, and education – all three areas include dealing with a lot of people, and having to meet high standards.
The figures have been similar for a long time, but in recent years there has been an increase - something that Dr Diana Gall says "really is concerning" because of the impact that stress can have on the individual, both physically and mentally.
Work-related stress, depression and anxiety, is defined as "a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work." How an individual reacts is compared to a 'fight or flight' response according to psychology academics from the University of Leicester. Claire Robinson, psychology graduate, said how "we display adaptive behaviour to try and either avoid the situation or resolve it." Moreover, if stress continues, it can lead to anxiety, and in some cases, depression.
The causes of this rise are put down to workload, a broad term that includes tight deadlines, maintaining a work-life balance, and changes in the workplace. A professor from the University of Leicester touched on his personal perspective, arguing that "more and more is being expected of us" and because of that, "it is no wonder that stress is increasing, particularly in younger, less experienced staff." This goes for all industries too; competition is high, standards are higher, and therefore the pressures to succeed are rapidly increasing.
Not only is the working environment becoming more stressful, Neil Shah from the Stress Management Society says that the problem goes further than that. "The current socio-political-economic climate is such that it's understandable that people are more stressed than ever before" and he said this before corona turned the world upside down – something that is only adding to stress levels. The work environment can cause stress in its own right, but even more so, stress from the outside world can then interfere with your working day too.
Employers need to be aware of the severity of this problem in the workplace. HSE's statistic shows how common the issue is, so ignoring it definitely won't make it go away. Claire said how "awareness is one of the simplest tools" when it comes to dealing with workplace stress. Once you know the signs of someone suffering, you can acknowledge the stress before it potentially develops into anxiety or depression.
Stress doesn't only impact the individual in question, it has an effect on their working performance. As the data has shown – days are lost because of stress, and this means that the business suffers too.
Neil Shah emphasised the responsibility of the employer in this challenge: "It is imperative for employers to ensure that the wellbeing of their employees is being effectively measured and supported, with a clear People, Culture and Wellbeing Strategy to guide it. The business case for managing the wellbeing of employees is irrefutable."
Dr Diana Gall touched on one way of dealing with the problem: "Mental health is serious, and employees nationwide would benefit from schemes in the workplace to help alleviate unnecessary stress."
The first step is all about getting the conversation started, letting people know that it is "okay not to be okay" as Neil said. He added: "you need clarity as to where you currently are on your wellbeing journey, have clarity regarding what success looks like, and then create a strategic approach to get you there," with the end result being a positive workplace for everyone.
Now more than ever, everyone needs to look out for people suffering during this testing time, so whether you're still in the workplace or working from home, look after yourself and those around you.
This article is a guest post from India Wentworth. India can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org