Stress at Work

Stress at Work – does I have to have it?


I had a conversation recently with a close family member who visited Cornwall on holiday.  It was a wonderfully warm day, albeit in the height of winter, and it seemed like city living was nothing more than 1,000,000 miles away. A quick round of golf, followed by coffee and then a gentle stroll to the nearest Cornish fishing village for some lunch. It was over lunch that we discussed how busy lives seem to be getting! The number of things that we had to remember on a day-to-day basis just in our personal lives for example, car tax and MOT followed by a major service including replacement of all the brake pads and discs at the front, cancel the parcel delivery, arrange school holidays and deal with the recent complete breakdown of the works laptop following a routine update.  Work was busier, the commute into London daily followed by changing projects, prioritised so that closing deadline could be met in a timely fashion with a workload looming that looked like the size of Mount Vesuvius… So what exactly is it about modern living? Now don’t get me wrong I’m a big fan of new technology that makes our lives so much simpler in some ways, but then doesn’t it also create and contribute the stress that we tried to get rid of from our lives? As technology replaces jobs we seem to be living in a climate where individuals have much more responsibility, a far bigger workload, tighter deadlines in a society which no longer has patience, and shrinking budgets to the point where it is almost impossible to get the job done well and meet the quality specification. 


It’s only right that we understand the definitions of stress.  Psychologists categorise stress into 3 different types:


  • Acute stress this is typically caused by the daily demands and pressure of living. It is the most common form of stress and it does bring feelings of excitement.  Too much acute stress over a longer term can bring tensions resulting in headaches and other physiological symptoms such as anger, anxiety and even depression. Discuss symptoms can be stomach upset, dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, hypertension and bowel disorders
  • Episodic stress is the term given to acute stress and is experienced frequently. When you are experiencing episodic stress symptoms it is likely that you will trigger depression, anxiety disorders and find yourself ceaselessly worrying.
  • Chronic Stress develops due to long-term exposure to stressors such as a traumatic experience, unhappy relationship, family issues, poverty and chronic illness to name a few. Chronic stress is said to “destroy the mind, body and spirit.”


The following figures are taken directly from the HSE website:


  • The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/14 was 487 000 (39%) out of a total of 1 241 000 cases for all work-related illnesses.
  • The number of new cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/14 was 244 000.
  • The rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, for both total and new cases, have remained broadly flat for more than a decade.
  • The total number of working days lost due to stress, depression or anxiety was 11.3 million in 2013/14, an average of 23 days per case of stress, depression or anxiety
  • The industries that reported the highest rates of total cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety (three-year average) were human health and social work, education and public administration and defence.
  • The occupations that reported the highest rates of total cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety (three-year average) were health professionals (in particular nurses), teaching and educational professionals, and health and social care associate professionals (in particular welfare and housing associate professionals).


Discovering that 39% of all work-related illnesses were due to stress and that 244,000 new cases of work-related stress were diagnosed last year I decided to see what the NHS reported about stress. They say that “anxiety, stress and depression are behind one in 5 visits to a GP” caused by work pressure, lack of support from managers and work-related violence and bullying.


So who is responsible for noticing stress?  It is my opinion that we are all responsible for spotting stress. As a leader and manager I was always aware of the pressure that my staff were under and of course ensuring that I was noticing my manager and my peers.  If you think that a colleague is suffering from stress, have the courage to ask them, maybe not outright, but in a way which will get an honest, straightforward response. Some of the warning signs are heavy smoking and drinking more than normal, anger and irritation – sounds familiar?



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