Nebulous and unacknowledged in law as the term might be, stress is nevertheless very real in the workplace and is estimated to cost British industry £9bn each year.
The Health & Safety Executive estimates 40 million working days a year are lost due to stress-related illness. But there is no UK legislation that compels employers to defuse the working environment for their employees and address "stress" as an issue, despite one of the worst records in Europe for stress-related mortality, illness and absenteeism. "The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 requires that employers must 'ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees'," says the HSE's Peter Morgan. "Yet these are broad, general principles. Stress as a cause of illness would be very difficult to prove."
Psychologist Brian Hill, who runs a private stress management centre in Harley Street, London, reckons everyday life has never been more stressful. "It affects every single one of us," he says. "It affects our homeostatis, or balance, so we take energy from our physical, spiritual, emotional centres to balance ourselves. Relationships suffer as well."
Some organisations claim to have taken an innovative approach to the problem - eschewing the ubiquitous Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) in favour of a workplace de-stressing area with names such as "anarchy area" the "quiet room" and the "break-out area", which we profile below. The more radical even allow employees to take a nap during the working day.
But professor Cary Cooper of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist) takes a cynical view towards workplace relaxation areas. He believes many of them allow for longer hours and points out that it is the chronic problems underlying the causes of stress which should be resolved.
"Nap rooms and massages at the desk are novel solutions, but they are not solving the major problems," he says. "These could be inflexible working hours, autocratic management styles or management directives. A regular audit needs to be done to see if there is a problem and [whether] it is getting worse."
Time management and prioritising are preventative measures which can help, says Cooper, and that counselling should be provided for those who "fall through the cracks and cannot cope".