Stress and the Workplace

Most people, in one way or another will experience stress at some stage of their lives. Some people love stress, such as athletes perhaps; whilst others make themselves seriously ill.  Feelings of stress can affect both males and females of any age. This could range from having slight feelings of panic and anger, to full blown anxiety attacks and depression.  I’m sure you can relate to a time when you were stressed, or maybe you’re reading this because you have some stress in your life right now – to which I am sorry to hear.  I am writing this blog about stress and its relation to the workplace, a massive subject – especially here in the UK.  However, I could write several blogs about stress because it’s such a vast topic.

Let’s begin.  Stress is thought to be the most commonly reported work-related illness.  The Health and Safety Executive states that work related stress is ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed on them at work’.  Research shows that the ‘adverse reaction’ undermines the excellence of peoples’ working life and efficiency of the job role.  The World Health Organisation (who you all may have heard of) defines work-related stress as ‘the response people have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope’.  Both organisations also imply that work-related stress might go unrecognised for a long time – which is not what anyone needs.

The National Health Service has identified the physical and non physical symptoms that could be experienced if a person is developing feelings of stress.  These are: a pounding heart or palpitations, a dry mouth, feelings of distress or of not coping, headaches, odd aches and pains and a loss of appetite for food and sex.  Some of these may be extremely familiar to you; if not, make sure you remember these warning signs.

Within the UK, figures indicate that 13.5 million working days were lost to stress in 2007/08 and in 2010/11, 400,000 people reported work-related stress at a level they believed was making them ill and had considered or had taken sick days from work.  This consistent loss of working days is reinforced by the Office for National Statistics, stating that 13.3 million working days were lost in 2011 because stress, depression and anxiety caused people to take sick leave that year –  so you are not alone!  Sickness absence causes an estimated loss of 105 million working days per year, PER YEAR! costing UK employers a surplus £1.24 billion on top of the £4 billion pay-out of direct stress costs.

Moreover, the quantity of workers who had pursued medical advice for what they believed to be work-related stress, increased to over half a million people (530,000) a year; this medical time could have contributed towards non-preventative diseases and illnesses such as cancers or trauma.  Apparently, a greater awareness of the condition and mental health support for employees could financially benefit UK businesses by saving a significant £8 billion a year, BILLION – a lot of zeros.

Work-related stress in the UK

FACT.  Teaching is the most stressful profession in the UK.  41.5% of teachers report high levels of stress every year.  In 2003, a study by the Schools Advisory Service showed that 33% of teachers took sick leave as a result of work-related stress and in 2008 and 2009, there was an 80% increase in teachers committing suicide WHICH NEEDS ADDRESSING!! Plus, it has been nationally recognised that 40% of teachers leave this career entirely within the first five years due to stress caused by workload, long working hours and poor pupil behaviour.  I know all this is true because my mum is a teacher and I watch the disgusting amount of extra hours she has to do in her own spare time (massively put me off from going into the teaching profession).

What causes work-related stress?

One major topic contributing to work-related stress could be long working hours.  You may not know this, but UK citizens work the longest hours in EUROPE, with 71% working an average of 43 (42.7) hours a week AND have 40 days unpaid overtime a year, therefore decreasing the availability of ‘free time’ AND DON’T GET ME STARTED on the amount of hours doctors work here.  I am pretty sure I read the other day that junior doctors contracts mean that instead of working 91 HOURS A WEEK, they will now ‘ONLY’ have to work 72… yes, SEVENTY TWO hours a week – outrageous in my opinion, but let’s not get into politics.  All i want to say is this, the Netherlands apparently work 29 hours over 4 days – oh to be so lucky.

There are 6 six factors that if poorly managed or not controlled would increase levels of work-related stress.  These were identified so that employers and organisations would become ‘aware’ of the potential stressors within their environment and could then take action to address them (although they probably don’t).  They state the importance of defining a clear job role and demands that should be manageable.  There should be an element of control in the workplace, where employees should be able to have a say about the way they do their work.  Additionally, employees should obtain regular support from colleagues and managers.  Similarly, relationships within the workplace should be favourable and employees should not be subjected to unacceptable behaviour such as bullying, racism or sexual references (obviously). Finally, if there are any changes within the organisation, employees should be engaged throughout the process.

Psychological consequences

One-in-five visits to a doctor are due to stress, anxiety and depression.  Frequent visits are a result of symptoms such as frustration, anger, a sense of helplessness, worry, negative attitudes, difficulty concentrating, anger and low self-esteem.  Which could result in poor relationships with work colleagues, friends and family.  Thus, ending up in a negative cycle.

Work-related stress can lead to dissatisfaction, described as the ‘most obvious’ psychological effect of stress.  Dissatisfaction and stress increases when there is a lack of clarity on duties, authority and responsibilities and as a consequence leads to procrastination and boredom – so make sure you address this within your workplace if this is happening to you. Stress can lead to behavioural consequences such as an increase in drug, smoking and alcohol use; detrimental to physical and mental health.  For example, alcohol is a depressant that negatively interferes with neurotransmitters in the brain that are required for positive mental health.

Physical consequences

Over half a million people believe that they experienced work-related stress at a level that was making them ill.  This could include: sleep disturbance, increased breathing rates, agitated behaviour, chest pains, panic attacks, stomach pains, headaches, dizziness and high blood pressure. These significant physical symptoms are detrimental to health in the long term; we know that high blood pressure is associated with heart attacks, stroke and kidney disease and stress has also been associated with increased levels of suicide (as previously discussed with the teaching profession) so I better keep an eye on my mother!

What can you do to help yourself?

I have come up with a few simple ideas that you can take away from this blog to help prevent stress coming into your life.

  1. Eat well – Eat nutritious foods that are packed with goodness to help fuel your mind and body.  I don’t know about you but I feel really good when I’ve eaten good food!
  2. Exercise – Exercise releases endorphins, the happy happy hormone. It’s also a good way to get rid of negative energy.  Go for a run, knock out a punch bag, lift something heavy.
  3. Yoga and Pilates – Some of you may know that I have recently picked yoga up and I love it.  Perhaps I’ll write a separate blog on why everyone should take part. But let me just say, it’s incredibly relaxing.
  4. Sleep – I love sleep, you always have a great feeling about waking up to a new day.
  5. Talk  – Don’t keep things bottled in, talk to someone about what’s bothering you and what you should do, or address the problem head on.
  6. Have some fun – Do I really need to expand on this?
  7. Have a hot shower/bath – It’s always nice to lock the door and feel the heat on your back, then you get out fresh and feeling brand new.
  8. Book a trip/holiday – Something to look forward to, something to work towards.
  9. Get rid of the problem – Move desks, move offices, change your job, change your hours.
  10. Think happy thoughts –  Change the way you think, change the way you perceive life. Try and go the rest of the week without thinking or saying anything negative.

Peace and Love ❤

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 © 2016 Naomi Laws. All rights reserved.

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