OH needs total support in fight against stress

Stress has certainly been hitting the headlines recently. According to the HSE, in 2001/02, more than half a million people in the UK reported suffering stress, anxiety or depression related to work. OH professionals are in the front line when it comes to tackling this issue. But what is the best approach for OH staff to take?

The word itself is a catch-all term so general that many medical experts see it as a meaningless label. And yet stress-related conditions continue to fill GPs’ surgeries and cause the loss of millions of working days – a recent estimate is 13.4 million in one year.

In this special supplement of OH – the first of two to come out this autumn – we are taking a detailed look at the role of OH practitioners and stress, highlighting recent legal case law, important surveys, the views of experts about best practice and multi-disciplinary approaches to reducing and managing organisational stress.

And although this is a complex subject, the message from the OH community is clear. If stress is to be dealt with effectively, taking a holistic approach is essential. Stress-management strategies, however effective, can only address the outcomes of work-related stress, not its sources. Organisations still rely too heavily on intervening at the individual level, and are unlikely to have stress prevention programmes in place that could eliminate pressures in the workplace at source.

So for OH, there is still a challenge. If stress is to be significantly reduced – and managed effectively when it does occur – it needs the full support of line managers and senior HR staff. Yet again, the importance of OH raising its profile and becoming an integral part of organisational structure is clear. Until that happens, the results of poor job design, over-work, long hours and bullying management tactics will continue to drain 3bn a year out of the UK economy, and the workplace will continue to cause stress-related ill health.

Sara Bean

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