Stress in the Workplace – Can you take steps to reduce it?

A new ESRI (European Working Conditions survey) study, funded by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), finds that job stress among employees in Ireland doubled from 8% in 2010 to 17% in 2015.  This is a jump of more than 50%.

The survey found that workers in Ireland were more likely to report the pressures of emotional demands and exposure to bullying, harassment and other forms of mistreatment but less likely to report time pressure than their Western European counterparts.

The study identified that job stress is more common among people experiencing high levels of the following workplace demands:

  • Emotional demands: (i.e., dealing with angry clients/customers or having to hide emotions while at work). Those experiencing high levels of emotional demands were 21 times more likely to experience job stress than those with the lowest levels.
  • Time pressure (e.g. never have enough time to get the job done, work to tight deadlines) : those with the highest levels of time pressure were ten times more likely to experience job stress than those under the least time pressure.
  • Bullying, harassment, violence, discrimination etc.: those with the highest exposure were eight times more likely to experience job stress than those with no exposure.
  • Long working hours: those working over 40 hours per week were twice as likely to experience job stress as those working 36 to 40 hours.

Employees were less likely to experience stress if they experienced support from co-workers and managers, felt that their job was useful or had a feeling of work well done. Employees in Ireland enjoy relatively high levels of support from managers and co-workers. However, these factors had less impact on levels of job stress than the demands listed earlier.

So what can employers do to support employees that maybe experiencing stress?

Workplace stress occurs “when the demands of the job and the working environment on a person exceeds their capacity to meet them”. There are varying factors which cause work related stress such as poor communications, bullying and harassment, work overload, long or unsocial hours, etc.

It goes without saying that work related stress impacts both the employee and the organisation. For the employee it can impact them physically and mentally. This may result in them calling in sick, or taking a leave of absence from work. For the employer it leads to a loss of manpower, productivity, efficiency, and customer service to name but a few.

Employers have a duty of care to employees and this is reinforced in the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005. It would be wise for employers to have a procedure in place to tackle the issue should they identify an employee experiencing such stress. This not only empowers the employer to take action to help the employee, but it also shows the employee experiencing stress and other co-workers that the company cares and that they are willing to help alleviate such stresses.

There are a number of actions which an employer can take in dealing with work-related stress. One such action is to refer an employee for an Occupational Health Assessment which will provide them with objective medical advice on the employee’s condition. Another action is to identify the causes of stress, be they working hours or workload and take steps to alleviate them. The employer can also offer the employee sick leave, annual leave or unpaid leave to take time to recover from the stress related illness.

For Support please contact mryan@righthandhr.ie or on 086 822 5448