Work is a fact of life for most people; we have to work to live. Hopefully, within that existential ‘given’, there is an element of enjoyment to be derived from work. But the sad truth is that work-related stress is on the rise in the UK. According to the Health and Safety Executive, 11 million days a year are lost to work-related stress. A Labour Force Survey of 2016 revealed that half a million people experience long-term stress, anxiety and depression related to their working life. This accumulation of work-related stress costs the UK economy £5.2 billion per year. These statistics are all the more shocking when you remember that employers have a legal duty to protect their employees from stress at work by carrying out a risk assessment on job roles.
There are several factors that contribute to work-related stress. The most obvious one is work overload. But having a lot of work to do isn’t, in and of itself, stressful; some people thrive on being ‘busy’. By definition, ‘stress’ is both the physical response to threat and the psychological response to situations that make demands of us beyond our ability to cope. So when we feel we can cope, a big workload is not necessarily stressful. So what might have an impact on a person’s ability to cope?
One factor is the physical environment that you work in. Some workplaces are very cramped, too hot/cold or are very noisy. Such a workplace is going to test the limits of your ability to cope. A further factor is role ambiguity. You might not actually know what your job entails, simply because it’s never been set out clearly for you. Is this your job, or is it someone else’s? Can you…should you…must you? Whose responsibility is it? What demands are being made of you? That kind of constant uncertainty can leave you on edge, particularly if you are lower down the pecking order. And I’m sure we’ve all met or heard of the kind of boss who likes to ‘keep people on their toes’ by leaving that little bit of uncertainty in your job. I often wonder if they realise the damage they are doing.
This lack of clarity is closely linked to the single biggest contributory factor when it comes to work-related stress; the amount of control you have over the work you do. Several studies have shown that the ‘Demand-Control’ matrix is a good predictor of jobs roles that are more likely to induce stress. Jobs with high demands (e.g. responsibility/accountability) combined with high levels of control are actually the least stressful and most rewarding jobs. The most stressful jobs are those which make high demands but afford little control; someone else sets the agenda, or keeps moving the goal posts.
There is one final factor that is often overlooked; the work-life interface. Does your job cut into your family time? Do your family responsibilities make it more difficult for you to do your job? And how do you strike the right balance in both without feeling guilty in either?
Work is an important part of an individual’s identity. Stress at work can distort a person’s sense of self and have a serious negative impact on both mental and physical health. So, if you feel that your work-life is a source of stress, it might be useful to analyse your job role, using the five factors set out above. If you would like more information, feel free to get in touch using the Contact Form.