Preventing and tackling stress at work

Stress, as defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them. Pressures can come from inside or outside the workplace, or a combination of both.

PCS firmly believe that employers should not try to distinguish between work-related and external pressures - if the result is affecting work performance, employers should be trying to help.

Tackling causes of stress

PCS policy is to deal with stress by removing, or controlling, the causes of stress at work. This means ensuring, for example, that targets are set with input from staff and are achievable and that clear and effective procedures exist to deal with bullying and harassment in the workplace. However, securing such progress can take time and knowing that such aims are being pursued does not helpwhen someone feels under excessive pressure. What is needed then are more immediate solutions, to bring down pressure levels and avoid longer-term health problems that can result from sustained periods of stress, for example, insomnia, anxiety and depression or heart and gastrointestinal problems.

What to do if you feel stressed at work

1) Remember that stress is not a personal weakness nor is it 'your fault' - employers have a legal duty to protect your health and safety at work. 

2) Try to work out what is causing the pressures.

Stress can be caused by poor working environment, factors include:

  • noise
  • temperature
  • ventilation
  • humidity
  • lighting levels

It can also be affected by organisational issues such as:

  • lack of job security
  • poorly planned changes at work
  • inadequate resources
  • inadequate or unclear communications

Job design can also be an issue that can cause stress. Factors to be aware of include:

  • unrealistic targets
  • too much or too little work
  • inadequate training
  • fear of violence or abuse

Relationships at work can also cause stress. Are you facing problems such as:

  • harassment
  • discrimination
  • bullying
  • conflict between home and work responsibilities.

3) Don't ignore the issues - they won't just go away.

Talk to your union representative. enlist their aid in securing improvements - it may not only be you experiencing pressure from the same causes. You may need their support to take forward grievance or other complaint procedures especially if you are being harassed, bullied or discriminated against.

Talk to your line manager, either yourself or with or through your union rep. Some employers have procedures to tackle stress-related issues, such as overwork; if it is a training issue, additional support may be available. Go and see your GP, if you have concerns about stress affecting your health; don't be tempted to put your well-being at risk, such as by stopping taking breaks from VDU work or taking other shortcuts in safe working procedures

Be alert to possible changes of behaviour that stress can cause - increased smoking, drinking, poor sleep patterns.

PCS toolkit for health and safety representation

Tackling stress – beyond a single policy, for organisations to be more effective in their approach to dealing with stressors in the workplace, it will require a wide range of effective policies and procedures that are put into place and constantly monitored to ensure that they are working efficiently.

Preventing and tackling stress at work toolkit


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