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Measuring the Cost of Stress in the Workplace

29 September 2017 | Updated 01 January 1970

Pressure is part and parcel of most work environments and to an extent, our modern way of life. At an appropriate level, pressure can help us to maintain our motivation and the ability to get things done. But unquestionably there is a tipping point. Workplace Phycologist Jackie Casey discusses how sustained excessive pressure can have a detrimental effect.

Stress is right up there amongst the biggest problems encountered in British workplaces - with the cost to the economy being estimated at a staggering £3.7 billion per year - according to statistics produced by the government.

In 2015/2016 there were 488,000 workers who sited stress as a reason for absence - meaning that for every 100,000 workers approximately 1,510 workers suffered stress, anxiety or depression. This is an increase of 48,000 reported cases on the 2014/15 figures.

Taking into consideration the immeasurable personal cost, both emotional and physical - combined with the financial impact on businesses, healthcare services and ultimately the economy - then the effect on the country and our workforce is immense.

The origins of stress and anxiety lie deep within our DNA - our genetic self-preservation mechanism. Our brains respond to a perceived threat by sending a signal to the Adrenal Cortex which produces adrenaline and cortisol. Both do slightly different things but cause us to be able to respond very quickly and at the same time signalling the body to increase oxygen and glucose to areas of the body that need to be mobilised. The heart rate and blood pressure will increase in order to fight, run or freeze. At the same time, these neurotransmitters reduce any non- essential body functions.

If we cannot use this energy and respond to events as the body expects, the chemicals stay in the body reducing our ability for higher level thinking, affecting our digestive system, our immune system, our mood and sleep pattern - all of which can be identified as a primary cause of the body becoming sick.

The law requires the employer to take action when harm to an employee's health is foreseeable. It is expected that an employee can cope with the normal pressures of a job unless companies are aware of a particular problem.

There is a strong business rationale for promoting good mental health and well-being and minimising work-related stress. Most companies have work related stress problems even if they and their employees do not refer to them as such.

It is good business practice to make sure your organisation has effective policies and procedures. Your Health and Safety policy, which is a legal requirement, could have a section devoted to stress and mental health. Businesses also have other legal duties, including the responsibility to do suitable and sufficient risk assessments.

Organisations have a duty of care to employees and whilst trips and falls and other physical ailments can be tracked and checked, it is much more difficult to mitigate for stress. It is useful and appropriate to provide guidance and training on handling stress - being willing to commit sufficient resources to run any health and wellbeing project properly and implement interventions resulting from action plans. A good first step is training at Board level - commitment from senior management at an early stage is vital for successful implementation and delivery.

But there is a flip side - too much stress is undoubtedly bad but equally, too little is as detrimental and can result in demotivation and apathy - it is a fine balance. Everyone is different and what produces a stress response in one person might not trigger the same level stress response in another.

We tend to think of all stress as bad for us but in fact the appropriate amount of stress can motivate and help us to achieve our goals. Being mindful of stress and what is happening in the workplace, is not only a responsible thing to do - it is a sound business policy - both from a resource and financial perspective.


Supportive Services

Success Train is always keen to hear from company directors and managers who would like to learn more about effective processes to mitigate stress in the workplace or develop tactics to enhance leadership skills for themselves and their employees.

For more information call: Jackie Casey on 01384 402592 or go to:


Article written by Jackie Casey | Published 29 September 2017


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