We've all had bad days at work but for many work stress is a significant factor in causing ill health. It also has a massive economic impact due to loss of productivity and days lost due to sickness.
A study (1) identified the top five most stressful jobs as oil rigger, doctor, pilot, journalist and fireman. These jobs at least have the benefit of being fairly well paid. Other jobs identified as the 'worst' combine high stress with low pay such as care-assistant, sous chef and builders labourer.
There are certain characteristics which tend to increase a jobs stress: excessive workload, lack of support and feeling bullied or intimidated. This resulted in 10.4 million working days lost due to work-related stress in the UK in 2011/12. People working in health and social care have much higher than average days off. In fact stress is the single biggest cause of days lost accounting for 40% of the total (2).
So, is there anything we or our employers can do? Well, if you're facing a life of being a cat food quality control inspector (yep, a real job) then maybe you're stuck, but otherwise there are some fairly simple things which reduce stress in the workplace (1).
- Ensure that the workload is in line with workers' capabilities and resources
- Design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities for workers to use their skills
- Clearly define workers' roles and responsibilities
- Monitor the workload given out to the employees.
- Managers should be trained to understand workplace-stress
- Managers should encourage employees notify them of mounting stress
- Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs
- Improve communications, reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects
- Provide opportunities for social interaction among workers
- Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job
- Combat workplace discrimination (based on race, gender, national origin, religion or language)
- Bring in an objective outsider, such as a consultant, to suggest a fresh approach to persistent problems.
- Encourage work-life balance through family-friendly benefits and policies
...and if you ever find a workplace like this let me know!
In reality even in the best run organisations a degree of stress is inevitable and can't be managed away.
This is when strategies to manage stress become important and hence why we are working with various companies to develop Work Stress Free, an app focused on educating and helping people with work place stress.
(1) Stress and Psychological Disorders in Great Britain, Office for National Statistics, 2013
(2) Sauter SL, Murphy LR, Hurrell JJ, Jr. . Prevention of work-related psychological disorders. American Psychologist 45(10):1146-1158.