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Tackling stress is dogged by misunderstanding - but it cannot be ignored
People can be too frightened to admit that they are under stress because they associate it with the stigma of mental illness or because people see it as a sign of some kind of weakness and some organisations seem to be taking the view that stress is not their problem but an individual's.
The truth is that responsibility is shared. It's down to both the individual and the employer to combat the problem.
In large corporates and companies, the management has a serious responsibility to address the problem or face losing it's most high-powered staff.
But with the growth of outsourcing, using self-employed contract labour, ... it cannot any longer be avoided by the individual. In the vast army of micro-businesses, particularly in the IT and multi-media fields, stress can lead to a direct loss of earnings and business
Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, Frank Davies opening a TUC conference on 'Stress - Who is Liable' believes that that fear, stigma and avoidance of responsibility are just some of the misunderstandings which prevent organisations from tackling stress at work.
Mr Davies said "We find stress a difficult subject to talk about because there are probably as many definitions of it as there are psychologists. We say that stress is the reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them and they feel they can not cope. Pressure at work is not intrinsically bad, but when it gets too much we undergo the reaction we call stress and this can show itself through physical and behavioural symptoms."
Those symptoms can be so severe that employees have to take time off work and the Health and Safety Executive's Survey of Self Reported work-related illness in England and Wales in 1990 suggested that about 7,500 employees missed work because of stress, caused or made worse by work - costing British businesses more than £100 million each year.
Work-related stress is thought to be one of the most serious occupational health challenges facing British employment. The limited information available (derived from a small part of a wider survey of occupational ill-health in 1990) suggests that there are about 182,000 cases of 'stress or depression' caused or made worse by work each year. That makes stress the second largest category of occupational ill-health, after musculo-skeletal disorders such as back pain. And that was 10 years ago
A key aim of the Health and Safety Commission is said to be, to help employers prevent work-related stress and that includes managers getting the basics right. Making sure that jobs are do-able, that staff have the necessary skills and aptitudes, are dealt with in a consistent and fair way and that employees have a chance to contribute positively to their own working environment.
"Managing work-related stress is like managing anything else. Once the legitimacy of the issue is recognised you must find out the scale of the problem, decide what to do, do it and then check that what you've done is effective."
Mr Davies added "The problem of stress cuts across the spectrum of industry and commerce. It is as much an issue in manufacturing, financial services and retailing as it is in public services such as health care and schools.
So what is Government doing to find out how serious the problem is and what can be done about it?
Well, 10 years on, the first major study on this subject ever undertaken by Government in Britain.has been commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive to establish the scale of work related stress in employment in a massive research project.
A team of psychologists and epidemiologists at the University of Bristol led by Professor Andy Smith has undertaken the study seeking to -
n determine how widespread and severe occupational stress is in a random population sample;
n define more clearly what is meant by occupational stress, including distinguishing stress caused by work from that caused by other factors; and
n assess the effects of stress on the health of the population.
The random population sample a cross-section of 17,000 people of working age in the Avon, Gloucestershire and Somerset area received a detailed questionnaire. The research is expected to finish during this year.
Dr Peter Graham, Director of Health for HSE said. "We are very keen to find out what the true extent of the stress problem is in Britain. "We suspect from our limited findings so far, that stress costs British businesses a considerable amount in monetary terms. It also has devastating effects on the personal and family lives of employees. We hope that the Bristol team will get us hard evidence of the true extent of the problem so that we can convince employers that it is not only good practice to prevent work related stress, but also that it makes good business sense."
We all hope so too - and that have established the size of the problem, remedial action will be suggested and implemented in a lot less than 10 years time. An office (or house) move is right at the top or the stress scale, but it helps if it is planned right down to the last detail. First and foremost, if it's a major company move, appoint an experienced project manager. It's worth the expense. Otherwise ...
Two months ahead (at least):
n Arrange and confirm your removal date as far in advance as possible. Shop around for a reliable and professional removal companies and ask them for a couple of customers that you can contact for references.
n Choose a company which is recognised by the Nati- onal Association of Rem- overs (BAR), which means they have to conform to the Associations' demands for professional expertise.
n Make sure the company has insurance cover for all equipment and furniture during the move and during transit. Talk to them about packing cases or , they should be able to advise you how many and what sizes you need.
n Make a comprehensive list of everything that is being moved, in each area or department.
Two weeks ahead (at least):
n Dismantle equipment and furniture that is not designed to be moved when assembled and keep all the loose lead, nuts and screws in labelled boxes or jars.
n Arrange disconnection of appliances and computers. You may need a specialist remover and separate insurance cover for your computer equipment.
n Organise gas, electricity and water meter readings on the day of your move.
n Take down, and pack, fixtures and fittings. Remember the framed certificates and wall pictures.
The day before:
n Prepare plants for the journey by giving them cane supports and heavy polythene.
n Set aside an area marked 'DO NOT REMOVE' for coats, handbags, kettle snacks, tools and other materials you'll need on the day.
n Arrange separate transportation for any dangerous substances.
On the day of the move:
n Tell staff to personally carry any valuable and personal documents, or software discs to your new premises.
n Delegate someone responsibility for each packing case, and its contents, by department
n Make sure that the removal crew has directions for the location of each crate and an outline of contents.
n Label all rooms. Colour coding is quite successful.
After all that you only have one more hurdle to jump - unpacking (and finding your nearest decent local).
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