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How to manage stress at work

An estimated 6.5 million workers are affected by work-related stress, costing employers £370m per year and industry in the United Kingdom over £3.7bn annually.

The most “stress-prone” are said to be teachers, nurses, managers and other professionals, with those between the ages of 35 and 44 thought to be at most risk. Stress was also recorded as the key health and safety priority for two thirds of the 9,000 safety representatives polled by the Trades Union Congress in December 2000.

Stress can be costly not only in terms of its effects on other members of staff, but also in compensation payouts if employees can show that they have suffered stress as a direct result of conditions at work. Employees who can prove that they have suffered from a clinically recognised psychological injury, such as depression, have grounds for making personal injury claims. For example, in October 2001, a nurse who had a mental breakdown because of stress and overwork was awarded £140,000 by the High Court.

An additional cost identified by stress management experts Stephen Williams and Lesley Cooper is the loss of “intellectual capacity” when there is a high turnover of good staff. They argue that “high rates of staff turnover are one of the clearest organisational signs of stress”. Employers should also be concerned because stress has been associated with poor performance, poor time keeping, absence and even customer complaints.

The symptoms

Work-related stress is defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”. In other words, stress is not so much about feeling pressured, but about having an adverse reaction to pressure. It is about the response of the individual.

Although stress itself is not defined as an illness, it can lead to physical and psychological problems. Physical symptoms include tension headaches, feeling faint, migraine, nausea, nervous twitches, backache, altered sleep patterns and excessive sweating. New evidence also suggests that stress lowers the production of the some of the cytokines involved in the early stages of wound healing. Psychological and behavioural symptoms include reduced self-esteem and self-worth, anxiety, poor decision-making, mood swings, depression or feeling low, feeling out of control or helpless, poor concentration, irritability and anger.

Workplace pressures

The type of workplace pressure that can lead to stress varies. Working long hours and having an excessive workload are common sources of stress for employees. However, it has also been found that some employees feel stressed if they are not given support at work or if they do not feel appreciated for the work they do. If an organisation is undergoing change and employees are not given the opportunity to contribute to how the change will be managed, this can also be a source of stress.

Download the attached PDF to read the full article.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10978683

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