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Coping with workplace stress

With the UK economy still reeling from the effects of the recession and workers increasingly concerned about their job security in the face of public sector cuts, it is no surprise that workplace stress levels are high.

In addition to job and financial concerns, many employees are finding themselves overworked, having taken on extra duties from redundant colleagues or simply because they are trying to prove their worth by putting in more hours.

Recent research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) highlighted that stress tops the lists of workers' health and safety concerns, with 62 per cent of health and safety representatives identifying it as an area for concern.

The extent to which stress is affecting UK employees was also emphasised by a study from Badenoch & Clark, released earlier this month, which found that a massive 84 per cent of workers consider themselves to be stressed, while 14 per cent think they are very or extremely stressed.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: "Stress can be caused by heavy workloads, cuts in staffing, long hours and bullying.

"The economic crisis and redundancies have created more anxiety about job security, and as the spending cuts begin to bite and even more jobs start to go, stress at work is bound to increase.

"Unions and employers must work together to combat stress at work as it can have a devastating impact on workers and a damaging cost on businesses."

With such high levels of stress in UK workplaces, it is vital that managers take steps to combat the issue, for both employees' sake and the business's.

Numerous studies have shown that stressed workers are less motivated and less productive, meaning that high volumes of workplace stress can impact on a firm's bottom line.

In addition, if staff members' stress problems escalate they may need to take time off sick to recover, which will also affect productivity levels.

As such, a proactive approach is best and managers should work to create a culture where staff feel they are able to communicate openly and honestly about any problems they are facing, at work or at home.

However, research from mental health charity Mind suggests that this is not the case in many companies, with 93 per cent of workers who have called in sick due to stress lying to their employer about the reason for their absence.

Despite this, 70 per cent want to be able to discuss their stress with their boss and a third would like their boss to make the first move.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: "If employees don't feel they can be honest about the pressures on them, problems that aren't addressed can quickly snowball into low morale, low productivity and high sick leave. We'd urge employers to encourage a culture of openness at work so they can solve problems now, rather than storing up problems for the future."

So how can employers ensure they are providing their staff with enough support?

According to the Health and Safety Executive, managers must first accept that stress might be a problem for their staff and then make time within their own working day to help deal with it.

The watchdog also suggests using its Management Standards to ensure that workers are not overworked and that managers and staff have good working relationships.

Managers should also become adept at spotting the warning signs of stress so they can step in before problems escalate.

The International Stress Management Association states that the key thing to look out for is changes in behaviour.

If staff seem more irritable than usual or are withdrawn, stop looking after their appearance or experience weight fluctuations, it could be that they are struggling with stress and need some help.

So, in order to ensure that all staff are happy in their role, and that they are at their most productive, it is best to tackle stress head on.

Commenting, Helen Toll, health and safety consultant, Aviva Risk Management Solutions, said: "Work-related stress is a very real issue for many employees and should be given priority along side other workplace risks. Unfortunately an attitude amongst many bosses that sees stress as a sign of personal weakness, is still all too prevalent, and it is in these cultures that employees are likely to keep quiet about any pressures they are experiencing until it is too late and they reach burn out. For line managers to say 'my door is always open if you have a problem' is not enough. A 'positive enquiry' approach is needed whereby line managers hold regular one-to-one meetings with their staff during which they ask them about work pressures and if they need any extra support."ADNFCR-2134-ID-800252314-ADNFCR