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Stress at work: What are you rights?

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The modern-day workplace can be very competitive. Some employers promote stricter deadlines and push responsibilities on their employees on purpose in order to motivate them. However, in most cases, pushing your employees too much can end up hampering their overall productivity and cause unnecessary stress on them.

Research shows that work-related stress affects both employees and employers. Often, employees resort to other ways such as absenteeism and feigning illnesses to avoid stress at work.

Likewise, employers tend to make bad decisions as the business suffers from lesser productivity and withering workplace relations. It is, therefore, crucial that employers and employees both work together to reduce any type of work-related stress through effective management and frameworks.

Check this post to find out more about stress at workplaces and your rights if you suffer from it.

What is workplace stress?

The definition of workplace stress is straightforward – it is the adverse reaction employees have towards excessive work-related demands placed on them.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), more than 526,000 workers reported experiencing work-related stress, anxiety or depression (both new and long-standing) in the year 2016-17.

In addition, there was an estimated loss of 12.5 million working days due to work-related stress in the UK alone during the year 2016-17. If we talk about the total reported health cases in the UK, almost 40 percent were due to stress experienced in the workplace.

Across industries, stress is more common among personnel working in public service industries like education, defence, business, media and healthcare. Now, let us talk about the signs of stress that can help you identify someone who is facing immense pressure at work. These signs might include –

  • depression and negative feelings;
  • lack of confidence or motivation;
  • inability to concentrate;
  • eating problems and alcoholism;
  • insomnia.

What causes work-related stress in the first place?

Modern-day workspaces can be extremely competitive. Therefore, stress at work is quite common. While it helps drive people to give their best efforts at work, it is often seen that setting up unreal expectations or working under strict deadlines causes immense stress to employees.

If we talk about triggers of stress, harassment at work, excessive workload or problems and bullying in the workplace are the usual culprits. Among other possible causes of work related-stress we have:

  • inability to control the pace and quality of the work;
  • lack of understanding of the role within the organisation;
  • insufficient support from your colleagues and the organisation;
  • disruptive, improperly communicated changes within the organisation
  • long hours and shift work.

How can you recognise workplace stress?

Across organisations, employees face various challenges on daily basis. Stress happens when they are unable to cope with the excessive pressure to perform better than their peers.

Undue stress often leads to behavioural changes in an employee such as:

  • the inability to concentrate;
  • not being able to switch off from work,
  • feeling exhausted all the time;
  • dread coming into work;
  • becoming irritable and moody;
  • change their work pattern (eg stay up late in the office or refuse to take breaks);
  • start taking more sick leave;
  • complain of physical illnesses such as nausea, migraine or frequent headaches;
  • seem jumpy or always trembling;
  • develop longer-term health conditions such as asthma, heart conditions, high blood pressure, strokes, ulcers and even cancer.

What to do if you’re experiencing stress at work?

If you feel that workplace stress is hampering your productivity instead of motivating you, you need to discuss this with your line manager.

Together, you can work on identifying and rectifiying the situation. There are several ways your work superiors can help you in dealing with the problem, including:

  • You can request for flexible working hours. You are legally entitled to ask for flexible timings once you complete a minimum of six months on the job (unless you are an employee shareholder). Your employer might agree to this request if it’s reasonable;
  • You can ask for a transfer to a less stressful role or different department;
  • You can ask your employer to intervene and put an end to all bullying or harassment at the workplace. In case, the harassment or bullying involves unlawful discrimination, you can draft a formal complaint and approach an employment tribunal.
  • If you have a serious mental health condition such as long-term depression or a chronic migraine, you can ask your employer to make adjustments to your role or workplace. In case your employer refuses to consider your request, you may be able to make a formal complaint and claim for disability discrimination or potentially agree to disagree in the form of a settlement agreement;
  • You can ask for a referral to a certified occupational health specialist. In addition, you can also draft a formal letter of grievance to the HR department and your employer, contact a union rep or talk to an employment lawyer about your stress within the workplace. If you have to resign due to stress, you may be able to claim constructive dismissal. However, you should seek employment law advice from a reputable lawyer first;
  • You can discuss your condition with a general practitioner (GP) to help determine the cause of your stress. You can also ask for your medical records from your GP, in case you wish to file a claim and need evidence.

What are the laws on work-related stress?

In the UK, employers have the same legal obligations to recognise work-related stress as any other hazard.

The 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act requires organisations to ensure the safety, health and welfare of their employees.

Likewise, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations Act 1999 requires employers to identify and assess the risks of ill health (including stress-related conditions) arising from work-related activities.

Subsequently, employers need to make sure that the workplace has all proper control measures implemented. Other legislations that safeguard employees from work-related stress include:

  • The Working Time Regulations 1998, which places limits on the duration of the working day and recognises paid holidays as a legal entitlement.
  • The Equality Act 2010, which recognises stress as a symptom of an underlying health condition that could later amount to a disability. In such cases, therefore, the Equality Act requires the employers to modify the workplace and work timings, to help alleviate stress.
  • The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is relevant when stress at the workplace is caused by harassment.

Other sources of help

In the UK, there are a number of sources to guide employers and employees on effectively manage workplace stress. These include:

  • The government-funded, Fit for Work, which provides assistance with sickness absence and advices on work-related health;
  • The Health & Safety Executive which publishes multiple papers on work-related stress guidance;
  • The Institute of Occupational Health and Safety, which provides a free occupational health toolkit;
  • The Mental Health Foundation website provides several free mental health publications and links to other useful information sources;
  • The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy or the Employee Assistance Professional Association provides one-to-one stress counselling services;