Two recent reports have once again raised the stress question - just what should HR be doing?
Occupational stress is labelled the back-pain of the 21st century by HR professionals managing sickness absence in their organisations.
Ask most employees if they think their work is stressful, and they will tell you that it is. To say otherwise has become regarded as a confession that you are not committed to the job.
In the past few weeks, both the Health and Safety Executive and the TUC have raised the stress issue again. HSE research estimates that 150,000 UK employees have taken at least a month off sick because of stress-related illness (News, 3 July).
Last week, TUC general secretary John Monks called for employers and unions to work in partnership to reduce stress in, rather than join the "blame race".
The world of work has changed significantly in the past 20 years. Downsizing, the growth of information systems, de-manning and increased use of contractors, to name a few, have changed what we do and how we do it. Job security, some would say, is a thing of the past. All these are new pressures, but do they harm us?
To understand stress is to appreciate how people respond to different pressures. The right amount of pressure stimulates us to succeed, and this gives us satisfaction. Pressure only becomes stress when the individual feels unable to cope with the demands placed on them. This perception varies considerably from person to person.
The popular wisdom is that work-related stress is the beginning, middle and end of the problem. But this approach does not take account of the pressures experienced outside work. If managers believe that the problem is caused by work and therefore can only be cured at work, they are destined to fail.
The reality, as with many health-related issues, is far more complex. People go to work not as a blank emotional sheet but with all sorts of pressures upon them. They then face a different set of pressures in the workplace.
Managers know that they have to do something, but the big question is, what?
The HSE has found that business "would benefit from having more guidance about work-related stress".
In response, The HSE and the Engineering Employers' Federation (EEF) have published guidance to help managers understand stress and take action.
The EEF's Managing Stress at Work