IT WOULD be a quite extraordinary – or, at least, exceptionally lucky – human being who claimed that he or she had never felt stressed at work.
We may not have recognised, or described, it as stress but, no matter the job or profession, the chances are most of us have felt under pressure, overwhelmed or simply unable to cope with a particular task or situation.
Stress is, essentially, a biological reaction which helps us respond to difficult circumstances and, of course, it can sometimes be good for us, helping us to rise to the challenge or work through a problem.
But increasingly, it seems, many of us are feeling stressed too often, triggering a persistent “fight or flight” reaction that can build up to a chronic condition that can have a serious impact on our wellbeing.
Understanding and recognising the point at which this tips over into a mental health issue is a major focus of Mental Health Awareness Week, which comes to an end on Sunday, for both employers and employees, and it has prompted some powerful West Yorkshire initiatives to try to tackle the problem.
A new survey by former Pudsey (now Leeds) -based online HR software company Cascade revealed this week that four out of five workers say stress is now “a way of life”. They polled 540 people across the UK in a wide range of occupations and backgrounds and found that 67 per cent of respondents claimed to have felt stressed at work for a week or more during the past 12 months.
Among those who took part, 68 per cent said their workload was the biggest culprit, followed by colleague behaviour (47 per cent), juggling work and family pressures (40 per cent) and the approach adopted by their managers (39 per cent).
A total of 77 per cent said stress frequently or occasionally kept them awake at night.
Oliver Shaw, Cascade’s chief executive, said: “We have to acknowledge that stress can jeopardise mental wellness. Seventy-five per cent of people believe mental health is becoming one of the most significant risks to the nation’s wellbeing.”
Their findings echo another, much larger study, also unveiled this week, by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF). Their research report – Stress: Are We Coping? – surveyed more than 4,000 people and found that, over the last year, almost three quarters (74 per cent) said they had been so stressed they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
The survey suggested that workplace pressures had more impact on younger people. Earning enough money to pay the rent or buy a house were reported as key sources of stress by more than one-in-three adults aged 18-24, compared to 22 per cent of 45-54 year olds and only seven per cent of those aged over 55.
They also reported higher stress related to the pressure to succeed, with 60 per cent of 18-24 year olds, and 41 per cent of 25-34 year olds reporting it as a cause, compared to only 17 per cent of 45-54 year olds, and just six per cent of those aged 55-plus.
The MHF report says: “Work-related stress in 2016/17 accounted for an average of 23.9 work days lost for every person affected. It has now been estimated that around 15 per cent of people at work have a mental health condition; and 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem in the UK lose their jobs each year.
“For these reasons, tackling stress at work should be a major priority, as should be creating a supportive workplace culture that promotes mental health and enables people to seek help safely, without risking adverse consequences.”
The need for managers to learn how to recognise the symptoms of mental health in the workplace and act appropriately prompted directors of two West Yorkshire firms to come together earlier this week to urge bosses to ensure proper training.
Gavin Howarth, managing director at Howarths People & Safety Management, in Cleckheaton, and Phil Constantine, operations manager at Leeds-based Vickers Laboratories, warned that failing to equip senior leadership teams and managers with skills to identify and address mental health issues in the workplace could have a serious impact.
“Mental ill health in the workplace is a growing issue,” said Mr Howarth. “It’s estimated that one-in-six working age adults experience depression, anxiety or stress-related illness at any one time, costing the UK business economy an estimated £70-£100 billion every year.
“It goes without saying that good mental health and wellbeing are vital to business performance, as content, healthy employees are more engaged, motivated and – ultimately – more productive.”
West Yorkshire solicitor Jodie Hill, managing director at Thrive Law, wants to go one step further.
She has launched a national campaign and petition to force employers to provide a mental health first-aider for their staff, in the same way they are compelled to have physical first-aiders.
She says: “Having someone in the office trained in mental health first aid also helps to remove the stigma surrounding the subject and create an open environment for those who are suffering to open up.”
? Test how stressed you are and get advice and help on the MHF website: mentalhealth.org.uk