Stress costs the economy £100 billion every year? Dame Carol Black, who completed a review of the health of Britain's working age population, says absenteeism through stress is the largest single cause. The British Academy puts it that stress costs £30 billion.

As a nation, we are becomingly increasingly aware of the stress plague spreading across our working population, a situation that has been exacerbated by the recent recession and unprecedented financial constraints and pressures. Not many days go by without someone complaining of being ‘stressed out’, whether it is because of the rush hour commute, the demanding boss or a reduced pay packet.

Whilst stress is a subjective and personal experience, few people can deny that it exists and that it is increasing as belts tighten and unemployment figures rise, not to mention the mass media reports of despair!  Stifling our economy, and exerting an oppressive force on our health, it is an issue which desperately needs addressing; a 2008 report by Dame Carol Black estimated that stress and chronic ill health in the workplace costs £100 billion. Furthermore, The European Network for Workplace Health Promotion revealed that for every 80p spent on health promotion and intervention programmes, £4 is saved due to reduced absenteeism, temporary staff costs, presenteeism and improved motivation.

Unfortunately, the negative connotations which shroud the issue and the associated cynicism that is bred as a consequence means that stress is a slippery subject and one which is abound with controversy. It is no wonder that stress is an issue which is difficult to regulate, assess for risks or ascertain a level of accountability when issues of blame are raised.

Or so it has been until now. Three new standards have been developed by an impressive committee of experts under the guidance of the British Standards Institute (BSI) to provide guidance on managing psychosocial risks (stress) in the workplace and a structured framework for effectively managing risks and adopt best practice in organisational management, exceeding legal requirements and providing an opportunity to create a sustainable and healthy business for the future.

Working for Wellbeing Ltd is the body responsible for the administration, assessment and quality standards of the ISMAuk accredited training program adhering to these standards. Without question, their training will have a huge impact on individuals who have a responsibility to manage staff wellbeing as part of their professional remit. With the evident stress epidemic showing no signs of slowing, the demand for these licensed practitioners will be exceptionally high.

The BSI Standards and Working for Wellbeing  See box below:

Good and Bad Stress?

Let it be clear, there is no such thing as good and bad stress. Indeed, many of us are able to cope with short term pressures and can often excel when placed in such a situation. However, a continued or excessive amount of pressure is what causes a reduced ability to cope and often subsequent ill health.

Specific definitions of stress are widespread but the new PAS 1010 course states that

Stress manifests as a physical, psychological or social dysfunction resulting in individuals feeling unable to bridge the gap with the requirements or expectations placed upon them.”

Without question, the pressures exerted in the workplace which may trigger such a response can vary widely, depending on a host of factors such as the individual, environment and situation. This could refer to career stagnation and under promotion or be as severe as workplace harassment or bullying, or combine any numbers of factors in between, such as work overload or a lack of support.

It is not a black and white situation and given the spectrum of possible causes, the term psychosocial risk has been applied by the BSI to more broadly refer to an individual’s development in, and interaction with, their social environment.  By assessing such risks in a wider sense, it is possible to manage the hazards that may lead to psychological or physical ill health. These hazards encompass a range of areas but importantly configure both the employers and the employees’ role in mitigating risk.

Would you recognise a stressed colleague?

Signs of stress vary from individual to individual but generally fall into four key areas;

Psychological: E.g. Anxiety, Depression, Memory Lapses

Emotional: E.g. Mood Swings, Loneliness, Defensive

Physical:  E.g. Muscle Tension, Grinding Teeth, Allergies, High Blood Pressure

Behavioural: E.g. Poor Time Management, Absenteeism, Socially Withdrawn, Accident Prone

There are obvious similarities across the four areas and the symptoms should not be written in stone as a definitive check list for a stressed worker. The signs could be displayed with varying degrees of severity and may alter according to a number of factors. However, it is vital that these early indicators are recognised and addressed before they lead to long term ill health. This could include gastric ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, stroke, depression, diabetes and heart disease. What could start as an organisational affliction could quickly evolve into a chronic illness and it is vital that psychosocial risks are assessed and managed to avoid such implications.

The PAS 1010 not only explores the fore mentioned causes and symptoms of stress but also the effects on an organisation from both an operational and financial perspective. Not only do performance, productivity, engagement, innovation and reputation all reduce as a result of stress but increased staff turnover, presenteeism and absenteeism can all have a huge impact on the bottom line, not to mention litigation costs if issues are identified!

Managing Psychosocial Risks

There are a number of legislations and regulations that are discussed within PAS 1010 but essentially every employer with 5 or more staff must undertake a risk assessment for all hazards, which includes stress. This Psychosocial Risk Management is at the core of the PAS 1010 and provides structured guidance and recommendations for organisations of all sizes and across a range of industries to identify risks and implement a strategy to conform to a set policy. By demanding commitment from the principle decision makers and shareholders of an organisation, it provides a project management infrastructure where effective assessments can be made and policies implemented.

A Revolution…

Stress management in the workplace has so far been impossible to assess or determine a level of liability, whether delivered in house or by an external provider it has been out of the question to comprehend the actual value of the procedures or how effective it may or may not have been.

Through these new standards and the Working for Wellbeing training program, a new generation of accredited professionals will be armed with a measurable qualification and a process to qualify performance. This will mean that for the first time in history, managing stress will be a transparent and effective procedure.  

If you would like to be one of the first ISMA UK certified trainers, visit the Working for Wellbeing web site for more information.

Article by Sadie Hopson on behalf of Working for Wellbeing Working for Wellbeing
The BSI Standards and Working for Wellbeing

Having been developed by a number of associations and professional bodies, including The Health & Safety Executive (HSE); Nottingham University; Confederation of British Industry (CBI); Canada Life and Aviva Insurance; EU Trade Unions; Working for Wellbeing Ltd and The International Stress Management Association (ISMAuk), these standards finally provide structured guidance for effective stress management. Overseen by the BSI as Publicly Available Specifications – PAS 1010, 1011 and 1012 – will sit alongside established and recognised standards already globally recognised.  This will not only help organisations understand their obligations as documented by the HSE and EU but also help them understand how implementing procedures in best practice can benefit their entire organisation, saving over £600 per employee per year.

With PAS 1011 still being in development and PAS 1012 pending sign off, PAS 1010 (Organisational Stress) is the first to be completed and addresses the workplace hazards that may cause stress, providing a structured process for the identification of risk. It examines the business case for undertaking a risk assessment by exploring the causes and consequences of stress at work.   (back to text)


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