Stress tops the agenda again – new figures show it’s hitting UK employers harder than ever (News Release: 02-Nov)

'Workplace Wellbeing' is the key theme for today’s National Stress Awareness Day, which arrives just as stress is identified as the leading cause of long term sickness absence in the CIPD's annual absence survey published yesterday. The ​Better Health at Work Alliance (BHWA) warns employers that the cost to business of inaction is far greater than investing in simple and effective interventions.

The impact of health on work and, equally, work on health has been put back in the limelight today as key organisations and experts call for more attention on the impacts of stress in the workplace. The Better Health at Work Alliance (BHWA), ACAS and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) are amongst many voices eager to draw employers attention to the issue. 

A paradigm shift is gradually taking place as the awareness of mental health issues in general takes hold amongst UK organisations – but plenty more is yet to be done if problems like the impact of stress on workplace wellbeing are to be managed correctly on a wide scale basis.

Brand new findings from the  CIPD's annual sickness absence survey identify stress as the most common cause of long-term sickness absence for both manual and non-manual workers

In addition to increasing awareness, long overdue support – such as the recent Early Day Motion (EDM) in parliament, led by Norman Lamb and supported by 29 MPs,  arguing for the requirement of trained Mental Health First Aiders in every organisation to be included within the current first aid legislation, shows that change is slowly coming into play.

The BHWA suggests that employers would be wise to act sooner in amending their approach, if they haven’t already, to ensure that as a minimum they are familiar with the chief stressors at work and have empowered and trained line managers to know how to respond to signs of mental ill health, including stress. There are many expert services and resources available for employers to signpost or refer to; some wellness initiatives are free of charge and all have an excellent business case. 

Common law dictates that employers must take ‘reasonable care’ to preserve the safety and health of their employees. This includes a specific duty to assess and take measures to control risks from work-related stress.

Charlotte Cross, Director of the Better Health at Work Alliance explains “Stress is a very real issue but in many cases stress ‘at work’ is usually caused by underlying social and personal factors (stressors) that reduce an individual’s ability to cope with challenges at work. These hurdles then become ‘last straw’ style triggers or flash points for overwhelming stress. Often, without such underlying social factors contributing, the ensuing flash point that led to a stress at work diagnosis from a GP, might not happen.

“It is essential for employers to be aware and supportive of stress within their staff, and its ensuing impact upon health, regardless of cause. There are lots of ways employers can make a difference by engaging with CBT programmes, resilience training and more.

“Even many social stressors or triggers are not off limits for employers, such as debt, for instance. Financial anxiety is a common and significant stressor, and yet it is a simple step for an employer to identify this and signpost onwards for free impartial support from a debt solutions provider.”

 

What frontline experts advise – 3 different approaches

Cliff Lee, head of CBT provider Rightsteps, explains “Stress contributes to the largest category of employee sickness in the UK, with estimates suggesting the average employee is “stressed” for 35% of the working week - circa 84 days a year.  The impact of unmanageable stress on both individuals and organisations is huge and where left unchecked and / or unmanaged can lead to further health conditions including significant Mental Health issues, such as anxiety and depression.   Employers can play a key role in ensuring that workplaces recognise potential  ‘stress triggers’ for their employees,  and where required provide access to specialist support including talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which are proven to assist individuals in becoming better able to cope with their own individual triggers which can be the cause of stress."

Fiona Penfold, Managing Director of occupational health consultancy Trident Medical Services, expands:

“Stress will impact upon everyone differently and it can be work or non-work related or a mixture of both. A stressed employee may also be taking time off work as a way of coping emotionally. Stress not only accounts for sickness absence but it can also impact on productivity - if a member of staff is either physically unwell or feeing the emotional effects of stress they are unlikely to be productive. This can also impact on their colleagues – with the possibility of their workload increasing to compensate. This in turn can increase the stress levels of other members of staff, thus the issue multiplies. We work with our clients to introduce initiatives such as coping and resilience training, along with counselling, training for line managers and a return-to-work rehabilitation plan for individual employees. A good Occupational Health services provider can not only advise on carrying out a risk assessment but can also support employers in dealing with individual cases”.

Rachel Linstead from wellbeing consultancy Firecracker UK suggests:

“We have stress in our lives; we can’t get rid of it and we can’t avoid it, but we can look at how we can help our body deal with it. Performance at work is directly linked to managing energy through diet, and stress is no exception. When we are stressed some of our body systems are up-regulated so we need more nutrients in our diet to support our health. Employers need to recognise that right food in the workplace can play a role in coping  with stress and boosting productive time. At the same, to ensure results we need to be careful about making the right choices – for instance avoiding a comforting 'cake culture'. “

 

-Ends-

Editor’s Notes:

For more information on the The Better Health at Work Alliance (BHWA), detailed membership information and interview requests, please contact Francesca Bonfiglio on  pr@bhwa.org.uk or 08453 313031

  • The Alliance launched in spring 2016 as an information service and advice body for employers on all issues surrounding health at work. 

 

  • BHWA’s Founder membership already encompasses some of the UK’s largest Occupational Health, Mental Health and software service, alongside niche specialists and established regional services, including: Trident medical Services, Capital Physio, Medigold Health, Fit Back, CBT Clinics Ltd, Medgate UK Ltd, Gipping Occupational Health, Caer Occupational Health, Ergability, Therapy Direct, SureScreen Diagnostics, Matrix Diagnostics, Heales Medical, RAISLY, PayPlan, Asclepius Occupational Health, and CANTAB Corporate Health.

 

  • Industry experts and employers jointly recognise the substance behind the BHWA and the importance of the role it will play in making workplace health services simpler to understand and easier to find. It’s a win-win for employers and work health experts alike.

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The Alliance has huge potential to simplify Occupational Health for employers and providers alike. Therapy Direct Healthcare now has a greater opportunity to help with physiotherapy and MSK services throughout the OH Arena.  We think the BHWA can be a game changer in our industry.

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As the CEO of Medigold Health, I am delighted we are Founding Members of BHWA. I believe a forward-thinking initiative like this is long overdue in the health and wellbeing at work sector, which is sometimes guilty of being too inert.

As pioneers in occupational health, we are excited to be part of an alliance which is at the forefront of championing and developing our industry via the specialists, organisations and individuals that work within it.

I am personally a firm believer in collaboration being the key to success ultimately, people learn from people.  This principle underpins many of the features of BHWA’s offering and this shared ethos is what first attracted us to contributing.

Alex Goldsmith, CEO, Medigold Health
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We're excited to work with BHWA as we believe that more can be done by employers to engage with their staff and promote wellness at work. 

BHWA is the perfect vehicle to help and encourage employers to introduce health and fitness initiatives to help reduce absence and ultimately increase productivity

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This initiative is worth making time for. It will encompass a superb blend of specialists, underpinning every essential to modern and progressive workplace health. As working environments now demand so much more from us all, it’s excellent to have effective solutions made readily available, providing Employers with access to so many ideas to help them thrive and stay competitive.

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We must always work hard to understand the changes our clients are going through and the challenges they face. BHWA will link employers with providers to support that journey. We’re proud to be a founding member of the Alliance, which will bring together the many different disciplines involved in OH and wellbeing, promote OH to both small and large employers and help us bring more innovation to the field.

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The BHWA is a great initiative. We look forward to working with fellow experts and organisations to enhance the awareness of workplace ergonomics and its ability to significantly improve the performance and health of businesses and their staff

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As soon as we knew of this exciting initiative, we wanted to get involved.  There is a growing understanding that cognitive health determines what work we can do and for how long. Sharing our expertise and knowledge through the BHWA platform is a great way to help everyone make informed decisions.

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Expert collaboration is only going to improve quality and service delivery, so having all this knowledge in one place just makes access to advice simple.

Neil Hill, MD, Caer Health Services