Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the rate of total self-reported work-related illness, particularly musculoskeletal disorders, had declined from the levels seen in the 1990s. In contrast, the rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety had shown signs of increasing, having been broadly flat since around 1998/99.
Stress, depression or anxiety accounted for over half of all cases of self-reported work-related ill health in Great Britain in 2021/22. There were 1.8 million workers suffering from work-related illness in 2021/2022 with 914,000 cases (over half) made up of stress, depression and anxiety. The rate, at 2,750 cases per 100,000 workers (2.7%), was higher than the 2018/19 pre-coronavirus levels.
About half of the respondents (46%) reported that they were exposed to severe time pressure or work overload. Other factors highlighted as causing stress included poor communication or cooperation within the organisation and a lack of control over work pace or work processes.
Many employers celebrate offering Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and train mental health first aiders, however whilst these are important functions they are tertiary interventions that focus on the period after a mental health disorder or crisis has already occurred.
Employers need to focus on primary and secondary interventions. Primary interventions work by reducing exposure to work stressors (thus helping all employees). Primary interventions can include: ‘sociotechnical’ interventions that change objective aspects of work such as decreasing the number of tasks or improving work equipment; or psychosocial interventions that change perceptions on job control, support and clarity of role.
Secondary interventions typically involve making employees aware of the impact of work and stress and how to cope with them, this is important especially where it is impossible to remove the stressor entirely e.g. those in the police force who may have to deal with aggression and violence from members of the public.
The HSE’s management standards tool provides a great starting point for identifying where problems may lie within your business. But, whilst identifying what and where the issues are is important, resolving them can be challenging.
How we can help
System Concepts can offer a tailored and scalable service to help you understand and act upon any stressors created in your workplace, from an individual stress risk assessment for an employee, to a full exploratory survey with bespoke interventions and support based on the results, to help get your stress interventions right.