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Personal protection in the workplace shouldn’t solely focus on physical health conditions. Mental health issues can be just as debilitating. Life and career coach, Wendy Smith, gives her tips for managing stress at work.

Stress in the workplace is on the rise. A recent study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showed that nearly half of all employers were reporting increased absence due to stress. All employers have a legal responsibility to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees – this includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness, and managers have an important role to play in this.

We all face pressure sometimes, both at home and at work. But too much pressure and feeling unable to cope results in feeling stressed. Stress is bad for the body and for the mind. It can affect how we feel, think and behave. Someone suffering from stress may be unable to concentrate and lose their temper more easily. Headaches are common, and they can feel muscle tension or pain, or have dizzy spells.

Feeling under pressure invokes the body’s fight or flight response which causes a surge of stress hormones in the body. They prepare the body to run away from danger. Normally, as soon as the threat goes away the stress hormones switch off. But under constant pressure, the tap stays on, putting strain on body and mind.

We are all different and the amount of pressure that one person can take will be different from another. A situation one person finds stimulating and motivating can be stressful to someone else. And someone who is facing a lot of pressure at home, for example with relationship problems, may not have much in reserve for dealing with pressures at work.

Stress is not an illness in itself. But it can cause illnesses like high blood


pressure if it isn't addressed. It's important to recognise the symptoms of stress early. Knowing how to recognise stress helps people cope in a healthy way, rather than overeating, drinking too much or smoking.

Most of us cannot eliminate stress from our lives but there are things we can do to manage stress more effectively. These include taking exercise regularly, learning how to relax and adopting good time- management techniques to cope with a demanding workload.

At work we each have a duty to take reasonable care for our own health and safety. That means you should inform your employer if you feel the pressure of the job is putting you, or anyone else, at risk of ill health. You can also suggest ways in which the work might be better organised to alleviate stress.

It is up to managers to recognise that behaviour has changed, be aware that something is wrong and take action. Although, it is important not to over-react to small changes in behaviour and, remember, it is not up to a manager to diagnose stress in an individual. If you are worried about an employee, recommend that they see their GP.

The Health and Safety Executive has developed Management Standards related to workplace stress. They

demonstrate good practice and allow employers to assess the current workplace situation. They promote discussion and working in partnership with employees to decide on practical improvements. The HSE Standards help simplify risk assessment for work related stress by identifying the main risk factors and helping employers focus on the underlying causes and their prevention. They provide a yardstick by which organisations can gauge their performance in tackling the key causes of stress.

There's no quick-fix cure for stress, and no single remedy will work for everyone. If you are finding it hard to cope with pressure, don't rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine as a way of coping and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your GP, another health professional, a counsellor or a coach. @WWisewolf

Photo credit: bottled_void / Foter / CC BY

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