Why manage work-related stress and mental well-being?

Part of: About HSENI's Mental Well-being at Work Advisory Service, What is work-related stress?

There are many good reasons for tackling stress in the workplace, and everyone has a part to play, at every level of the organisation

The legal reason

While there is no legislation that specifically mentions work-related stress, under The Health and Safety at Work Order (NI) 1978 employers have a duty to ensure so far as reasonably practicable the health and safety of their employees at work.

Additionally there are duties placed upon employers to assess risks to health.  These duties are contained within The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 In the past these duties focused on physical well-being but is now recognised that it applies equally to psychological health and well-being.

EU Directive 

On 12 June 1989 the EU Directive 89/391/EEC introduced measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work. It directs that mental illnesses are to be treated the same as physical illnesses and that in turn leads that they should be risk assessed the same also.

In 2004 the Health and Safety Executive developed the management standards which are a set of principles to help employers comply with the law.

Over the last number of years there have been a number of successful civil actions taken by employees for work-related stress.
 

The moral/ethical reason

Managing the causes of work-related stress prevents ill health. There is now convincing evidence that prolonged periods of stress, including work- related stress, have an adverse effect on health.

Research provides strong links between stress and:

  • physical effects such as heart disease, back pain, headaches, gastrointestinal
  • disturbances or various minor illnesses
  • psychological effects such as anxiety and depression, loss of concentration
  • poor decision-making

Stress can also lead to other behaviours that can have an adverse effect on psychological and physical health and well-being, for example:

  • social withdrawal
  • aggressive behaviour
  • alcohol/drug abuse
  • eating disorders
  • working long hours

The financial reason

In 2017/18 a total of 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress (Labour Force Statistics).  

Each case of work-related stress leads to an average of 25.8 working days lost. There is also presenteeism, which is a reduction of productivity as high as 33% that occurs when employees come to work but function at less than full capacity because of stress/ill health.

In 2017/18 stress accounted for 44% of all work related ill health cases and 57% of all working days lost due to ill health.

Research has shown work-related stress to have adverse effects for organisations in terms of:

  • employee commitment to work
  • staff performance and productivity
  • accidents caused by human error
  • staff turnover and intention to leave
  • attendance levels
  • staff recruitment and retention
  • organisational image and reputation
  • potential litigation

It is also worth thinking about the impact that work-related stress could have on your unit or team. For example, losing one colleague for an extended period with a stress-related illness can have a dramatic impact on the workload and morale of the rest of the team.

By taking action to manage the causes of stress in your workplace, you can prevent or reduce the impact of these problems on your organisation and bring about business benefits.

Benefits of managing work-related stress and mental well-being

Economic benefits

  • lower risks of litigation – because they comply with legal duties
  • improved return on investment in training and development
  • improved customer care and relationships with clients and suppliers
  • reduced costs of sick pay, sickness cover, overtime and recruitment


Benefits for individuals

  • people feel more motivated and committed to their work
  • morale is high
  • people work harder and perform better – increasing their earning power
  • people feel that they are part of a team and the decision-making process, so accept change better
  • relationships, with managers and within teams, are better
  • people are happy in their work and don’t want to leave
  • line managers can outwardly show their duty of care
  • line managers can demonstrate good management skills that could help their promotability and career development


Management benefits

  • reduced staff turnover and intention to leave, so improving retention
  • better absence management
  • fewer days lost to sickness and absenteeism
  • fewer accidents
  • improved work quality
  • improved organisational image and reputation
  • better staff understanding and tolerance of others experiencing problems

Further information and guidance

European Agency for Safety and Health at Work - managing stress and psychosocial risks e-guide.