What is work-related stress?
It is well recognised that stress at work is a massive problem. Any stress can reduce employee well-being and it is well recognised that excessive or sustained work pressure can lead to stress. Occupational stress poses a risk to most businesses and compensation payments for stress are increasing. It is important to meet the challenge by dealing with excessive and long-term causes of stress. Our annual absence management surveys show that stress is one of the most important reasons behind sickness from work and stress-related absence is increasing. * See our latest absence management survey
Pressure and stress
There is sometimes confusion between the terms pressure and stress. It is healthy and essential that people experience challenges within their lives that cause levels of pressure and, up to a certain point, an increase in pressure can improve performance and the quality of life. However, if pressure becomes excessive, it loses its beneficial effect and becomes harmful and destructive to health.1
Stress is the adverse reaction that people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them. It arises when they worry that they cannot cope2. The pressures of working life can lead to stress if they are excessive or long-term. Causes of stress include excessive workload, inadequate training, a lack of control or autonomy and poor working relationships, for example a bullying line manager. Signs of stress
The first signs that indicate that employees might be suffering from excessive pressure or stress are changes in behaviour or performance. The kinds of change that may occur are shown in the table below. Work performance * declining/inconsistent performance * uncharacteristic errors * loss of control over work * loss of motivation/commitment * indecision * lapses in memory * increased time at work * lack of holiday planning/usage
| Regression * crying * arguments * undue sensitivity * irritability/moodiness * over-reaction to problems * personality clashes * sulking * immature behaviour
| Withdrawal * arriving late to work * leaving early * extended lunches * absenteeism * resigned attitude * reduced social contact * elusiness/evasiveness
| Agressive behaviour * malicious gossip * criticism of others * vandalism * shouting * bullying or harassment * poor employee relations * temper outbursts
| Other behaviours * out of character behaviour * difficulty in relaxing * increased consumption of alcohol * increased smoking * lack of interest in appearance/hygiene * accidents at home or work * reckless driving * unnecessary risk taking
| Physical signs * nervous stumbling speech * sweating * tiredness/lethargy * upset stomach/flatulence * tension headaches * hand tremor * rapid weight gain or loss * constantly feeling cold
| The legal position
Under health and safety legislation employers have a duty to undertake risk assessments and manage activities to reduce the incidence of stress at work. Our guidance Work-related stress: what the law says gives information on employers' legal duties and suggests actions for employers to take. * View the guidance
There are three main types of legal duty that employees could use as a basis for a stress claim: * negligence
* express or implied terms in the contract of employment that might be relevant to stress claims (for example the implied duties regarding health and safety and mutual trust and confidence) * statute, including various pieces of health and safety legislation. There is no statute specifically covering the issue of workplace stress: a selection of laws may be relevant but the law governing stress has evolved mainly from case law rather than legislation. It is important for employers to keep up to date with the implications of recent cases as the law in this area is continuously evolving. CIPD members can see...
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