Are you suffering from workplace stress?

Stress is a natural and common reaction by the body to physical or emotional triggers, and in most cases, it serves its purpose without causing any real damage. However, when people live in ways that send these triggers into overdrive, it can start to take its toll on the body and mind.

The workplace proves time and time again to be a major cause of stress, with factors such as uncertainty of security, competitiveness, and the disappearance of working hour boundaries (thanks to technologies imposing work related matters on people in spare time).

Here, we discuss recognising the symptoms of workplace stress, what your employer should be doing in response to stress, and what to do if you feel affected.

The importance of good mental health, openness and support of such issues have been prominent in recent times, forcing employers to take more responsibility for the wellbeing of their staff.

In the year of 2015-16, around 500,000 people reported being affected by workplace stress, equating to about 1500 people in every 100,000, while a total of twelve million sick days were taken in the same period as a direct result of workplace stress. The average person affected by workplace stress took an average of 29 sick days on an annual basis.

Forms of Stress

Workplace stress can manifest in a wide range of ways, and can be triggered by just as many factors.

- Among the most common causes of workplace stress are:

- Excessive or insufficient workload

- Micromanagement

- Lack of support from colleagues and management

- Lack of training or progress

- Promotion beyond capability

- Worries about job security

- Abuse or bullying from colleagues

- Poor management

- Uncomfortable or unsuitable working environment

Employers’ Responsibilities

The modern workplace is bound by legal measures to take steps that minimise the likelihood of employees being affected by workplace stress. However, as managers are coming to see the practical implications of workplace stress, they are doing more than The Management Standard requires of them, with regular brief reviews and vigilance to proactively conquer stress.

The Effects of Workplace Stress

Workplace stress causes a domino effect, meaning that people affected can see every other element of their life impacted by it. Of course, each person’s experiences are very different, but it is very common for stress in the workplace to quickly take a toll on a person’s emotional health in ways including:

- Feelings of anxiety, worry and panic

- Short temper and irritability

- Lack of confidence and enthusiasm

- Emotional sensitivity

- Poor concentration

As these emotional problems start to build, they can begin to impact a person’s physical health, leading to diminished performance in and outside of work, and general detriment to wellbeing.

Some of the most commonly experienced physical symptoms include:

- Fatigue

- Weakened immune system, leading to frequent illness

- Headaches or migraines

- Chest pains and trouble breathing

- Nausea and indigestion

At this point, a person’s behaviours and general attitude to life can undergo massive changes, causing a vicious cycle of symptoms and reactions to be established. They may begin to oversleep, or struggle to sleep; they may gain or lose weight without meaning to; their lives at home or among friends may suffer; they might even resort to dangerous habits in order to cope, such as heavy drinking or recreational drug use. Stress can even trigger fibromyalgia.

Of course, all of these symptoms will have a further impact on their already damaged working life, continuing the cycle of devastation.

What to Do

Those affected by workplace stress can find it harder to acknowledge and deal with than other forms of stress, as they feel the need to maintain a veneer of professionalism, defined by the lack of ‘life’ problems allowed to interfere with the workplace.

People commonly fear that those around them will think of them differently, and negatively, if their stress is acknowledged. They often worry that their reputation will be irreversibly damaged, and that they may even lose their job, which of course, adds to the stress.

However, it is the legal obligation of the manager to foster a workplace in which the wellbeing of employees is cared about, and to make sure that no one is suffering in silence.

Those who feel affected by workplace stress may find it beneficial to keep a journal to record incidents of stress, noting what triggered the stress, and what effects it had both inside and outside of work, including financial impact. This can help to identify patterns, and will be useful when discussing the problem with employers or doctors. Getting some counselling, or seeing a doctor about any emerging mental health problems is very important.

In the event that an employer does not seem to be adhering to their legal obligations in the fight against workplace stress, an employee may wish to seek legal advice. If uncorrected workplace stress has caused significant loss to a person, whether financially or otherwise, they may be entitled to compensation for their employer’s failings.

In such cases, a record of incidents will be particularly important, and a legal expert who specialises in personal injury claims can use this information to gauge the viability of a case.

If the legal professional examines an individual’s case and determines that they have been failed by their employer, they will be in a position to advise the person about how to claim stress at work compensation.

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