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Stress is the top health and safety concern in UK workplaces

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The message from the shop floor is clear, stress is becoming a bigger and bigger problem.

Over 70 workplace health and safety reps attended a seminar last month.

During round table discussions and feedback, it was clear that work-related stress and mental health problems continue to be a huge issue both at local and national level. For the first time, work-related stress, anxiety or depression accounts for over half of all working days lost due to ill health in Great Britain. It was suggested that all health and safety reps should receive some form of mental health awareness training.

The pressures of too many – or indeed too few, working hours and low job security are being felt in workplaces across the UK.

It’s in no-one’s interests to have an overstretched, unwell or unhappy workforce.

Mental health is absolutely the hot topic of the moment, and for good reason. The demand for workplace training is exceeding supply. However, you can’t train your way out of mental health issues or absences, it requires a full holistic approach to worker wellbeing.

For me that starts with strong unionised workplaces with collective bargaining coverage and elected union reps working with employers to respond to employee concerns. A strong starting point is ensuring there are fit for purpose and actively implemented policies in place, specifically such as Mental Wellbeing, Attendance Management and Flexible Working.

People who experience high anxiety are less productive and are more likely to take time off. Stress-related illnesses caused by work are often preventable. Employers have a legal responsibility to reduce or remove anything at work that could make you ill – and that includes workplace stress. There are underpinning procedures that can help like regular and supportive line management, meetings/1-2-1s that start with the question ‘How are you?’ which allows for an open dialogue and an easier conversation around any issues and hopefully a subsequent resolution.

Stress risk assessments are also a valuable way to identify a potential problem before it arises, therefore operating as a preventive tool – but only if they are applied correctly and the assessment is applied to the roles and not the people.

Having a culture where health and wellbeing is ‘designed in’ to workplace infrastructure and managers who are properly supported and trained in how to apply policy in practice is fundamental. And ensuring all staff are aware of the support available to them is key.

Employers can do this in various ways; by advertising jobs as flexible from day one; supporting a range of flexible working options such as home-working, flexi-time, or compressed hours; reminding colleagues that they can (and should) take their lunch break/leave and can attend medical appointments, workplace campaigns or activities like on-site flu jabs, or a lunch-time yoga class, without it being detrimental to pay. Reasonable workloads, supportive managers and a workplace free from violence, bullying and harassment are essential to worker wellbeing.

Ultimately, good work is good for you and everyone at work deserves a good job. A job where the worker is paid and treated fairly; one where workers get opportunities to progress, to learn and to have a voice on what matters.