Should we point the finger for work place stress?

It's not going to surprise anyone to know the latest research on work related stress shows a increase in stress-related absences in the UK. However, what is interesting about this latest research, cited in HRREview this month ( , is that it points the finger at poor management style and heavy workloads, as being the top causes of work-related stress.

Having been in the business of assessing work-related stress for over 20 years, we have found there are certainly strong links to the amount of work people have to do as being a key factor - that does seem to be the constant. However, there are many factors that contribute to work-related stress and management style is just one of them. Interestingly and probably not unsurprisingly, the relationship with your manager can often act as a counter-measure, buffering some of the negative effects of work-related stress.

Stress or growth? Can we choose?

That's not to say that management style doesn't play a role - of course it does. We all know the age old saying 'people don't leave jobs they leave managers'. However, getting a more balanced view of work-related stress and its multiple contributing factors is important, especially as it is becoming more accepted to talk about stress and mental health, rightly so, in the workplace. This will no doubt lead to an increase in sickness absence related to work-place stress, simply because employees no longer have to hide away from the previously perceived 'shameful secret', lying about why they are actually off sick!

As you can see in the model, multiple factors impact our ability to cope with the day to day pressures of work. If those factors outweigh our ability to cope, we are likely to experience stress, which can result from a multitude of factors, including volume of work and management style, but also things like a lack of recognition - a simple thank you goes a long way!

Managing work-related stress in any organisation is complex, because stress effects people in different ways for different reasons. Understanding where the 'hot spots' are is a great starting point, enabling organisations to target those most at risk. Enabling teams to take some control over their working environment is really 'gold standard' and not that difficult to achieve. Giving employees the tools to cope with work-place pressure is another great strategy. Developing managers to realise they may be part of the problem and how to manage appropriately is clearly beneficial. Probably the most difficult aspect to tackle is the systemic pressure of organisation structure, culture and volume of work in a 'do more with less' economic climate. However, to truly address work-related stress, all of these areas do need addressing. Otherwise, we may end up with a situation whereby we are constantly battling to stop people drowning in a turbulent river and never looking up stream to see why they are falling in the river in the first place!

Some enjoy the ride, some find it scary, some are clinging on for dear life! But how did they get in the river to begin with?

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