Workplace stress - the reality - Business Works
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Workplace stress - the reality

by Dave Capper, Executive Director, Westfield Health Stress is a well-know problem in the workplace. According to UK Government statistics, it accounted for 35% of all work-related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health - a staggering 9.9 million days in 2014-2015. Workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility, and a lack of managerial support were cited to be the main factors contributing towards it.

However, according to our new research released today, 45% of employees who have never experienced a mental health issue themselves do not understand stress to be 'real' and think it can be used as an excuse for people to have time off work, says Dave Capper, Executive Director at Westfield Health.

Following a period of absence due to stress, respondents reported that, "Colleagues made me feel that I was just taking time off" and "people treat you as if you're putting it on or just weak". Responses indicated a general lack of trust between colleagues and a lack of understanding of stress as a real issue. On returning to work, one respondent noted that they were "not seen as part of the team".

The findings, from the 'Mental Resilience' survey of nearly 2000 working adults across the country, have been released as a prelude to Mental Health Awareness Month (May). This will be an important opportunity to tackle misunderstanding around the issue and raise awareness of the causes and cures, particularly in the workplace. A lack of understanding and common misconceptions around stress prevent it from being recognised as a real issue in the workplace and from being addressed effectively.

stressed man Stress can arise as a result of situations or events that put pressure on us, or our reaction to being placed under pressure. It can lead to mental health problems, or be a result of them. Workplaces need to find a new language when talking about both mental health and stress. Some 56% of people feel that the term 'mental health' itself is too broad and its meaning is unclear. The term is perceived as covering up a multitude of issues and it is not always believed to be genuine. For half of employees surveyed, the term 'emotional fitness' resonated more and was viewed less negatively.

Changing how we talk about mental health and stress could help pave the way to getting people talking about the issues more openly. Once there is more understanding and openness, employers will be better placed to address the problems in the appropriate way.

Some fuirther comments reinforcing the challegnes were that, on returning to work, it was like there was an 'elephant in the room' as if I 'let myself and others down'. One respondent commented that, "Due to the nature of my ill health, colleagues were not sure how to approach me or what to say. People did not have an understanding around mental health issues at the time. Staff are more aware now, but still do not understand it, probably because they have not been through it themselves."

"This research highlights important aspects of the relationship between stress, the workplace and emotional fitness," said Kevin Friery, EAP Clinical Lead at Rehab Works. "In order to address these, to develop a new language, employers and employees need to work together to develop trust. An organisational culture that supports and encourages people to feel safe when talking about emotional fitness - especially when it is depleted - will also be a workplace where employees feel valued and engaged, where managers feel trusted and valuable and where the organisation experiences good levels of engagement, performance and productivity. Getting it right means getting it right for everybody."

According to the NHS, stress affects how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. To support Mental Health Awareness Month, we are encouraging employers to talk to staff about their perceptions and understanding of the term 'stress'.

For more information on stress, anxiety and depression, visit NHS Choices at:

For more information on Westfield Health, visit:

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