In recent years Stress and Work Related Stress (WRS) have been cited more and more regularly on medical certificates provided to employers when employees are out of work on sick leave.
While, for some people, a certain amount of stress can actually act as a challenge or a motivating factor, Work Related Stress generally has an adverse effect on employees and, consequently, on business operations.
A broad definition of Work Related Stress (WRS) is a negative personal state that arises in response to aspects of the work environment or how a person perceives the work environment to be. Work Related Stress gives the sufferer the feeling that he or she cannot cope with their current situation and that the demands placed upon them exceed their ability to actually fulfil those demands.
The source of this Work Related Stress can lie in the home or personal life of the sufferer and can be exacerbated by work issues or it can come directly from the work environment. The origin of the stress varies depending on many factors.
Causes of stress can include, for example:
- a lack of definition or ambiguity around organisational tasks,
- a lack of control or support,
- poor relationships with colleagues,
- long working hours,
- unachievable deadlines and time pressures,
- too many tasks to complete at one time,
- significant change to an employee’s role,
- expansion of the company,
- poor systems for dealing with bullying,
- a sense of job insecurity and
- barriers to communication
Stress that manifests itself in the workplace can lead to higher accident levels and higher levels of absenteeism due to ill-health. It can lead to low morale and issues with productivity. All of these have very negative implications for employees as well as employers.
Stress can have short or longer lasting effects – this depends on many factors; the number and severity of the issues leading to the stress, the person involved and their response to the issues (e.g. their age/personality style/emotional state), the length of exposure and the internal/external support structures available to the sufferer.
Stress can cause anger and frustration – it can lead to irritability and emotional distress or depression. In extreme circumstances it can lead to an inability to sleep properly as well as unhealthy habits such as gambling, smoking, drinking and eating irregularly. Medical conditions such as high blood pressure are associated with prolonged or extreme periods of stress.
Stress can manifest itself in many different forms. According to the Health and Safety Authority’s booklet on Work-Related Stress the effects of stress fall into four categories: Mental, Physical, Behavioural and Cognitive.
What this means is that stress can negatively impact how the mind works, how the body works, the things that we do (voluntarily and involuntarily) and the way that we think.
It is clear that it is in everyone’s best interest to limit Work Related Stress where possible.
Stress can necessitate remedial action in order to reverse its effects – this can be something as simple as a minor change in eating, sleeping or exercising practices or it can require something as extreme as inpatient care in a clinic or hospital.
Employers in Ireland are obliged, as far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure that the health and safety of their employees is not under threat. Employers must not place unreasonable demands on employees in the course of their employment.
It is essential for employers to put preventative measures in place. We advise employers to carry out risk assessments in order to ensure that demands on employees are reasonable. A risk assessment or audit should highlight any problem areas and these should be addressed as soon as possible to avoid the emergence of Work Related Stress.
Absenteeism, staff turnover, levels of injury rates of illness are less of a concern in companies where employees cite low levels of Work Related Stress so investing some time and resources in preventative measures is a worthwhile activity.
Employers can help to reduce Work Related Stress by ensuring that organisational and employee goals are clear. Stress can also be minimised if employers respect their employees and give them constructive feedback and recognition on their performance. Practicing consistent and fair management methods will limit stress levels. Allowing employees to be involved in the decision making process will also have a positive effect on the levels of stress experienced by employees within an organisation.