Workplace Stress – A Modern Epidemic

16 Sep 2019

Category: Company News

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Workplace stress may not appear to be a severe health diagnosis, but it has become a modern epidemic. 

In May 2019, the World Health Organisation classified burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as a result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” 

Claiming it as an ‘occupational phenomenon’, signifies that the medical community believe this needs to be recognised. 

Burnout has long been a term used in wider society for those struggling with stress and depression. However, it has not been taken seriously or viewed as a legitimate medical condition. 

With this categorisation from the World Health Organisation, it is hoped that more people will seek help when they realise they are suffering from burnout. As well as make more employers aware that it is an area of wellbeing they must take responsibility for. 

In the UK, 57% of employees feel worn out by work. This number rises by 67% for working parents.  The report published by Talk Talent reveals that burnout is not just reserved for more mature employees. Last year in 2018, younger workers took more days off work due to stress than their older colleagues. 

A Growing Issue 

Half a million people in the UK now suffer from work-related stress, and it’s a problem that’s increasing. The World Health Organisation has predicted that burnout will be a global pandemic within a decade. 

According to figures released by the Health and Safety Executive, 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/2018 as a result of burnout. This is up from 12.5 million from the previous period. 

The rise of burnout is a high cost to both individual and business performance. Work-related stress and mental illness account for over half of work absences. At present, this costs British businesses an estimated £26 billion per year. 

For workers suffering from burnout, almost 49% have claimed they lose focus at work. This indicates that burnout and office stress holds back employees from being able to perform to the best of their ability.

Causes of Workplace Stress 

In order to prevent burnout, it’s essential more organisations become aware of where the issue stems from. 

Research by Capella University has found that rising workloads and long hours are the main culprits. However, office politics are also linked to exhaustion from the study. 

The attitudes we hold around stress in society also plays a significant role. There is a culture of overworking that has become an expectation in the modern workplace. 

In a study by the ADP, it found 66% of UK workers overwork by six hours per week.

As one in four employees blame work as the primary cause of poor mental health, the triggers of burnout must be addressed. 

Recognising the Signs of Stress 

Our perceptions of stress are all unique. We experience stress differently in different situations. And what one person may find stressful, another might not. 

By understanding when we’re stress in the workplace, and by recognising it in others, we can begin to support people before the crash comes. 

Stress can affect you both emotionally and physically, as well as affect the way you behave towards others. Some people who have extreme stress in their lives can also feel suicidal. 

Recognising burnout as early as possible means you can seek help for yourself or others before it becomes a risk to their lives. 

These are some of the most common symptoms of workplace stress. 

Emotionally 

  • feel irritable or aggressive
  • find yourself feeling impatient for no specific reason 
  • feel over-burdened 
  • feel anxious, nervous or afraid 
  • your thoughts are racing 
  • struggle to switch off after work 
  • find it difficult to enjoy yourself in social situations 
  • feel depressed 
  • don’t feel interested by life or have a ‘what’s the point’ attitude 
  • feel neglected or lonely 

Physically 

  • headaches  
  • feel tired all the time 
  • have trouble getting to sleep 
  • your muscles ache, and your body feels tense 
  • you get heartburn more often 
  • don’t feel like eating, or you overeat 
  • trouble breathing 

Using these points, you may begin to recognise changes in your lifestyle that have been impacted by stress. Seeking support from your GP should be the first point of call. 

You should also discuss how you’re feeling with your employer so you can begin to make changes at work to ease the stress. 

Supporting Stressed Employees 

As workplace stress is rising in the UK, more support needs to come from organisations. 

Under the Health and Safety Act, wellbeing has become a responsibility for employers, and one that must be taken seriously. 

Wellness incentives have begun to increase in organisations across the UK, but support must go beyond work perks. 

In a report by the CIPD, only 25% of organisations have a wellbeing action plan in place. This is despite the increase in presenteeism and mental health-related absence. 

For organisations to start improving, the conversation must begin with the causes of workplace stress that lead to burnout. 

If you want to change how your organisation is having an impact on employee wellbeing, the following areas are a good place to start; 

  • Auditing workloads on a regular basis 
  • Providing remote working opportunities or flexitime 
  • Introducing regular breaks 
  • Banning emails and calls out of office hours 
  • Creating wellbeing plans for individuals 
  • Improving the workplace environment 
  • Adopting third-party support such as mental health coaching 
  • Holding regular wellbeing days 
  • Providing external benefits such as free gym memberships
  • Enhancing internal communication
  • Adopting mindfulness practices

As more employees struggle with the complexity of busy workloads and busy lives, it requires action to change the rise of burnout. 

Workplace stress must not be a norm in our organisational culture. 

If the rise continues at the pace it is, businesses will struggle to recruit talented individuals, and more people will be living with illness and poor health. 

Studies have revealed that 460,000 people transition from work to sickness and benefits within a year, which costs employers £9 billion per year. 

Burnout is a serious issue that causes workers mental health implications, and businesses significant costs.