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Work Related Stress and the Law

This guide explains work related stress and how pressure and anxiety can develop at work. Check your rights as an employee and how employers must help to reduce workplace stress.

WORK-RELATED STRESS: Protecting employees from stress at work is a legal duty for all employers in the United Kingdom.

Carrying out a health and safety risk assessment is part of employer duties – and then they must act on it.

What is Work Related Stress and Burnout?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides a clear definition of work-related stress. It is “the adverse reaction that workers have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”.

The stressed and anxious feeling can develop when workers are unable to cope with workplace pressures and other issues. Thus, it is important for employers to match employee skills and knowledge, to demands given to them.

Stressors can manifest themselves if staff feel they do not have adequate skills (or enough time) to meet tight working deadlines. So, how can employers help to lower stress levels and reduce pressure? They should provide planning, specialist training, and extra support where needed.

Work related stress and anxiety affects people in many different ways. Something that stresses one staff member may not necessarily affect another. Several variances and important factors can affect the outcome.

They include things like a worker’s skills level and their level of experience. But, age and working with disabilities can also affect whether employees can cope.

Common Causes of Stress at Work

A bad workplace environment and poor communication are typical causes of work-related stress. But, common stress triggers also include not having the right skills needed to match the task at hand.

Six common areas often lead to work related stress unless they get managed appropriately. Examples include:

  • Change: Staff are not engaged when a business undergoes change (e.g. employer relocation).
  • Control: Workers have a lack of decision-making rights and are unable to control the way that they carry out their work.
  • Demands: Staff may be unable to cope with the high demands of their jobs.
  • Relationships: Some employees may be having trouble with relationships at work. It can also include bullying and harassment in the workplace.
  • Role: Employees may not ‘fully’ understand their particular role and responsibilities at work.
  • Support: Staff members fail to receive enough information and support from the management.

Note: Employers must assess the risks in all these areas to manage stress in the workplace. But, certain events away from work can also trigger workplace stress (e.g. a bereavement, an illness, or money worries).

Signs of Workplace Stress

Stress is not an illness or a disease per se. But, it can make you feel ill. That is why it is important for employers to talk to their employees. They must learn how to identify the signs of stress and anxiety. Only then can they prevent and reduce stress in the workplace.

How to Protect Employees

Part of protecting employees from stress at work is assessing any risks to their health. In some cases, you may need to develop individual action plans for vulnerable employees who suffer from stress at work.

Employers can get further information from the ‘HSE Management Standards’. They help to identify and manage the six common causes of stress and anxiety in the workplace.

Help for Stressed Employees

Anyone with employee status who feels stressed at work should talk to someone. It could be their work manager, a trade union representative, a GP, or an occupational health team.

The best way of tackling work related stress and anxiety will depend on the kind you are suffering from. An example might be that the demands of your workload are too heavy to cope with.

If so, you can give notice to your employer that you do not want to work more than the maximum weekly working time (48 hours). You can also insist on taking the minimum number of rest breaks during a working day.

Having a child who is under the age of six, or a disabled child younger than 18, means you have the legal right to request flexible working arrangements. Your employer must give proper consideration to any such request.

Stress at Work Law in the United Kingdom