The inside track: Stress

08-12-2004

Stress is a paradoxical condition in the workplace, at once a status symbol and the biggest cause of long-term absence. According to the TUC, stress-related illness is on the increase. In its biennial survey of health and safety representatives, 58% listed stress as a problem for their colleagues, up from 56% in 2002. The most stressful workplaces are found in the energy industry and banking, where 83% of TUC reps reported it as a problem. Strangely, however, the most stressed workplaces are found in Scotland and the south-west of England, both parts of the UK associated with scenic beauty rather than hectic lifestyles.

But according to the Work Foundation (formerly the Industrial Society) stress has little to do with frantic activity and everything to do with lack of control of your environment, which is why in the workplace, stress is less of a problem for high flyers than it is for employees in less glamorous roles.

The Work Foundation takes a slightly more sceptical view of the matter than the TUC, pointing out that, strictly speaking, stress is not an illness. They also deny there is any such thing as an inherently stressful job, only stressed individuals. What the TUC and the Work Foundation do agree on is that it is an environmental issue, and that its removal is the responsibility of the employer. The Health and Safety Executive also agrees, and is encouraging employers to take stress into consideration when conducting health and safety audits. Since, according to the TUC's research, only about half of all employers conduct regular health and safety audits of any kind, it could easily be argued that a more root-and-branch type of reform is needed to make any genuine difference.

Bill Saunders
The Guardian

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