Stress At Work – Biggest Health Epidemic of 21st Century?
Lawyer Ashley Hunt, Director and Employment Solicitor at Lawson-West Solicitors, shares his view that stress in the workplace is now a commonplace occurrence.
Nowhere is stress more prevalent than in the workplace, where a target driven culture of monitoring staff creates unease and worry on a daily basis. With ever-changing workplace models such as atomisation, efficiencies and targets, it’s not surprising that workers feel the pressure.
Social interaction in the workplace can also put pressure on workers alongside an increasingly competitive approach to comparing staff to their peers and setting ever higher levels of expectations.
It has been reported in a variety of outlets that The World Health Organisation (WHO) previously called stress the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century”. True or not, this is hardly surprising given the increased pressures in our daily lives, juggling home and work commitments and with social media adding pressure on us to ‘enjoy’ our lives; stress, anxiety and depression can be so completely debilitating it is no surprise that is can sometimes be considered as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
What Causes Stress at Work?
I have noticed an increase in clients recently suffering acute symptoms of stress anxiety and depression at work. This may be caused by their job, the environment they work in, or it might be in relation to personal issues at home which are aggravated by the reaction of their employer to their situation.
Stress at work seems to have been increasing over the years and this has been down to a variety of factors, most notably the relationships with others in the workplace. Client’s remark feeling isolated from others, their concerns of ‘work overload’ ignored by their manager or HR team, or they are bullied to the extent that they feel unable to perform to the best of their ability at work, let alone come in to work in the morning.
Clients Report Stress in the Workplace
A large proportion of our employee claimant work is for stress and anxiety related issues in the workplace. I regularly see poorly-executed performance management plans used as a stick to beat the employee into submission or as a method of setting unrealistic goals or achievements. With our working lives making-up a significant period of time on this planet it is hardly surprising that the problem is becoming what the WHO might consider to be “an epidemic”.
4 Lawyer Tips to manage Stress in the Workplace
What can you do if work is causing or adding to your stress? At Lawson-West I recommended the following tactics:
1. Seek help and advice from your GP
There is the obvious benefit of getting professional help, but this also creates an independent record of the problems you are suffering from. Explain as much as possible to your GP so that they can record this, diagnose the condition and its severity and provide assistance, whether this is medicinal help or psychological support. It might also be the case that the severity of your condition is classed as a disability.
2. Talk to your employer
Your employer can’t help if they don’t know what the problem is. They might be able to offer support, adjust your working conditions or even help to provide counselling or occupational health services. Again at this stage an independent medical professional might give an opinion that you are suffering from a disability . Dealing with the problem head on has huge benefits. Commonly the problem is because of how your boss is treating you and if this is the case, try and reach out to another member of staff of equal or higher rank.
3. Raise a grievance
If your employer doesn’t take the problem seriously, or does nothing to address the problem, then you have the right to raise a grievance. We recommend the grievance is in writing and has plenty of detail on what the actual problem is and how you feel, particularly if you have been diagnosed with a disability Take advice on how to put the grievance together so that it is clear and unambiguous as to the problem you face.
4. Resignation is an option
If the problems at work are not being dealt with, the grievance is ignored or the situation has escalated then you may need to consider resigning. This can sometimes be labelled as ‘constructive dismissal’ and would usually occur after there has been a last straw event i.e. an incident, decision or action which has left you in the situation where you just feel that you can no longer work for your employer. Your resignation or constructive dismissal can be an act of discrimination. The matter is complex and it is always of benefit to take good legal advice at this point.
The stress you suffer in the workplace can therefore lead to a constructive dismissal claim and in some cases a claim for disability discrimination. The obvious problem is that the individual is often in a very fragile state and the prospect of complaining to an Employment Tribunal for the way they have been treated is daunting. The claims are complex but with good advice from the outset the stress pressure of claiming can be reduced with good legal support.
The Relief of an Employment Tribunal Claim Settlement
One of the biggest benefits to the client we find is being able to hand the takes the pressure off the individual. They feel supported and relieved.
Achieving an employment ‘settlement’ at the end of the case gives our clients recognition of the problems they have suffered, often endured over many years, and can greatly help in resolving the stress they are suffering today and in their ability to find alternative employment.
Mental Health & ACAS
ACAS has a framework for positive mental health at work and good advice for anyone experiencing stress in the workplace as well as recommendations for employer best practice. ACAS has interesting research on mental health in the workplace conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD). You can also see if your employer is following their recommended procedures or visit the ACAS website:
See more about Stress in the Workplace from the CIPD website.
What Should You Do Next?
If you are experiencing stress in your workplace, you don’t have to face it alone - email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set-up an initial no-obligation conversation. I have helped hundreds of employees facing similar problems and can provide useful information in a helpful and supportive way.
NHS: Beat Stress at Work
Mind: Work and Stress
Workstress.net What is Work Related Stress?View all