Workload piles on the agony for stress sufferers

With
excessive workloads being blamed for rising stress levels among staff, the
Government and employers are being urged to take action

Heavy
workload is the main cause of stress, according to a poll of 9,000 safety reps
by the TUC.

Two out of
three respondents reported that stress itself is their number one concern, an
increase on the last survey two years ago.

The TUC
also found that long working hours are now a greater problem, despite the
introduction of the Working Time directive in October 1998.

Cuts in
staff were cited by half the reps as a cause for concern, as was bullying,
mentioned by three out of 10.

Bullying is
more common in the voluntary sector, mentioned by 45 per cent of reps, followed
by banking and finance (43 per cent), then local and central government (both
41 per cent).

The TUC is
calling for action from the Health and Safety Executive to draw up standards
for tackling excessive workloads, low staffing levels and long hours against
which management performance can be judged. It wants the Government to oblige
employers to establish a rehabilitation policy setting out how they will deal
with employees who are injured or become ill while at work.

The HSE’s
senior policy officer Owen Tudor explained, “We asked our safety reps to list
what their worries were. They are trained people and they know what they are
talking about. The definition of stress is whatever our representatives take it
to mean.”

A CBI
spokesman said companies recognise their legal responsibilities to health and
safety matters, and for those that don’t there is plenty of redress in the
courts.

“Employees
are already protected by sufficient legislation at the moment. To introduce
more would be taking things a whole stage further.”

CIPD
external affairs manager Nick Isles said, “One would expect the TUC to talk in
this language. It would not make sense for businesses to have their employees
working longer hours [than necessary] because morale will fall and productivity
will be affected.

 

Executives push for improvements on wellbeing

Employers
are proving slow to carry out stress prevention, although they see it as the
fastest growing health issue among staff.

According
to the Managing Best Practice report from the Industrial Society, only
one-third of employers monitor workplace stress, with slightly fewer – 29 per
cent – having policies to cover stress.

But they
are being pushed by executives to improve, according to a survey from
e-business group Energis. It found 63 per cent of executives believe
productivity will improve if they can monitor and control their stress levels.

The
Industrial Society found that fewer than four out of 10 employers provide
stress awareness coaching for employees and less than one in 10 regularly
trains line managers in health promotion issues.

Pat
McGuinness of the society said, “Employers need open and honest lines of
communication, where employees feel they can freely acknowledge they are under
stress without fear of retribution.”

The
findings were drawn from 656 responses to a questionnaire sent to a random
selection of 5,600 HR specialists.

According
to Energis, Yorkshire and Humberside is the most stressful area to work, with 70
per cent of executives experiencing stress on a daily basis, followed by
Greater London at 53 per cent and Wales at 49 per cent.

Men are
more stressed than women, with 32 per cent experiencing it on a daily basis
compared with 19 per cent of women.

Occupational
psychologist Philip Lindsay said, “It’s not stress per se that is the problem,
it’s distress – the point where healthy levels of stress are exceeded and when
people start to suffer along with their job performance.”

 

By Kathy
Watson

Case studies

British Energy: one-to-one talks on assessment

British
Energy has introduced a system of task-related health assessment for employees.
This involves a programme of one-to-one sessions with employees to discuss
their health as it relates to their job requirements.

Interviews
are carried out by occupational health staff and may include clinical tests.
They are repeated every one to four years, depending on clinical need and type
of job.

Other
initiatives include a risk assessment model of mental health with a focus on
employees’ roles. There is also a focus on ergonomics and manual handling using
risk assessment and physiotherapy.

Employee
absence is low, 2.5 per cent compared with the CBI’s norm of 3.4 per cent for
the UK.

 

Motorola: Wham team keeps an eye on health

Motorola
has set up a new initiative called Workplace Health at Motorola (Wham) to
improve employees’ health. The Wham team comprises 12 people from HR,
occupational health, the company doctor, and representatives from its employee
assistance programme, the fitness centre, company restaurant, managers and
manufacturing grades.

It
organises special events to highlight good diet, heart disease, stress or food
safety and provides information through its web site and leaflets.

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