Yesterday, we looked at some of the key takeaways from the PSS Mental Health Survey 2021 and revealed a disconnect between high level initiatives and the workers they are intended to help. Today, we hear from Panos Stavrakakis, Head of the HSE Centre of Organisational Health and Wellbeing, on why it is still important to implement these initiatives and how HSE can help employers reduce stress factors.
In 2019/20, an estimated 1.6 million workers suffered from an illness they believed was caused, or made worse, by their work and 693,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury at work. However, the risk of injury and work-related illness varies across industries, being more likely in some sectors than others.
Stress, depression or anxiety, and musculoskeletal disorders accounted for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health, 17.9 million and 8.9 million respectively.
On average, of those suffering in the UK, each person took around 17.6 days off work. This varies as follows:
- 9.1 days for Injuries
- 20.0 days for Ill health cases
- 21.6 days for Stress, depression or anxiety
- 18.4 days for Musculoskeletal disorders
Mental health and the workplace
Work-related stress is defined by the Health and Safety Executive as a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work.
The latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) show:
- The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2019/20 was 828,000, a prevalence rate of 2,440 per 100,000 workers. This was statistically significantly higher than the previous period.
- The rate of work-related stress, depression, and anxiety has increased in recent years.
- The number of new cases was 347,000, an incidence rate of 1,020 per 100,000 workers.
- The total number of working days lost due to this condition in 2019/20 was 17.9 million days. This equated to an average of 21.6 days lost per case.
- In 2019/20 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health.
- The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support (2009/10-2011/12).
Mental health is about how we think, feel, and behave. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems. They are often a reaction to a difficult life event, such as bereavement, but can also be caused by work-related issues.
In the UK, regardless of whether work is causing the health issue or aggravating it, employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees. Work-related mental health issues must be assessed to measure the levels of risk to staff and where a risk is identified, steps must be taken to remove or reduce it as far as reasonably practicable.
By taking action on work-related stress, either through using the HSE Management Standards or an equivalent approach, employers will meet parts of the core standards framework. They will:
- form part of a mental health at work plan.
- promote communications and open conversations, by raising awareness and reducing stigma.
- provide a mechanism for monitoring actions and outcomes.
How mental ill health and work-related stress can go together
Work-related stress and mental health problems often go together, and the symptoms can be very similar.
Work-related stress can aggravate an existing mental health problem, making it more difficult to control. If work-related stress reaches a point where it has triggered an existing mental health problem, it becomes hard to separate one from the other.
Although stress can lead to physical and mental health conditions and can aggravate existing conditions, the good news is that it can be tackled. By taking action to remove or reduce stressors, you can prevent people becoming ill and avoid those with an existing condition becoming less able to control their illness.
What employers can do
HSE developed the Management Standards for work-related stress, a risk assessment approach designed to reduce the risk of staff developing work-related stress. HSE also developed the Stress Indicator Tool (SIT), a questionnaire-based instrument designed to help organisations risk assess the key aspects of their psychosocial culture. HSE has a successful track record of offering consultancy support to organisations committed to reducing work-related stress risk.
HSE's Management Standards and the Stress Indicator Tool approach to tackling work-related stress establishes a framework to help employers tackle work-related stress and, as a result, also reduce the incidence and negative impact of mental ill health. The Standards approach can help employers put processes in place for properly managing work-related stress. By covering six key areas of work design the employer will be taking steps that will minimise pressure, manage potential stressors and limit the negative impact that the work could have on employees.
Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. If you follow the Management Standards approach correctly, you will be adopting an approach that is considered suitable and sufficient.
I will finish by setting you all a challenge. Start a conversation with senior leaders in your organisation if you haven’t already. Or, if you are a leader in your organisation, start a conversation with the board around how the organisation can change to provide the right environment to support workers. By opening a meaningful conversation about Stress, Anxiety, Depression and Mental Ill Health at a senior level, organisations can begin to support their workforce and engage them in solutions. This can be a tough thing to do, use our guidance to help you. Thank you.
If you have any questions relating to this article, please contact Capt. Panos Stavrakakis at Panagiotis.Stavrakakis@hse.gov.uk