Mental Health Awareness week hosted by the UK’s Mental Health Foundation takes place from 14th to 20th May, 2018 and their theme this year is Stress.
A variety of factors contribute to workplace stress, including long working hours, poor management communication, expectations being set too high, a lack of recognition and reward, uncertainty about future prospects, and work underload or overload. These lead to low morale, poor performance, lack of commitment, higher levels of absenteeism due to ill health, presenteeism and increased staff turnover.
According to The UK Labour Force Survey (2016/2017), 12.5 million working days are lost each year due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, with about 44% of people experiencing work overload. This is definitely an unacceptably high figure and carries a significant cost for businesses.
Stress can also lead to mental health problems, including depression and anxiety disorders, with about 8.2 million reported cases of anxiety disorders in the UK.
By tackling stress, we can go a long way in tackling mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and, in some instances, self-harm and suicide. Sadly, in the UK, suicide remains the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49.
There is a considerable amount of stigma surrounding stress and mental health, with many people attributing the problem to a physical illness rather than a symptom of mental ill-health. They believe that others will see it as a sign of weakness or their inability to cope and as such distance themselves from them. Celebrities and the UK royals have helped to raise awareness in recent times, but we still have a long way to go. There are still countless executives in industry and commerce today who experience severe anxiety but are reticent about speaking out. However, it is true that some are championing the cause but nevertheless, we need more to carry the flag.
It is unfortunately true to say that many people think that if they admit to a mental health problem, they may not get a job, a promotion or keep a position even if they can secure it. And so they don’t talk about it! It means crossing a certain line into a world of medication and mental health support, where people may see you as ‘damaged goods’, an individual who will never be fully normal again. So a world of secrecy begins and mental health issues get swept under the carpet.
Stress Leading to Burnout
Prolonged cases of stress can lead to ‘burnout’ or a nervous breakdown. Sadly this may lead people to slip into dangerous addictions like alcohol, drugs or gambling in order to escape from their mental health problem and that can be the slippery road to burnout. Once they are in the burnout zone, they may never completely recover and return to full-time work again.
There are continual changes in business and industry – life in the workplace is increasingly fast-paced. People don’t want to be left behind, so they opt not to talk about stress, anxiety, and mental health issues. Yet, the first step to take is recognising the signs of stress so that we can start overcoming them.
Business leaders and professionals alike need to understand this and work towards a healthy organisational culture where these issues are talked about, not ignored. A healthy culture is one in which wellbeing is paramount and people feel valued and appreciated. Where they feel part of the team in a culture that’s inclusive.
A healthy culture grows through its people; industry bosses may not be able to pay the team more, but they will get more from their team if they are there to listen to them and tell them they are valued. They should make it clear that they recognise the contribution their employees are making.
As Chair of the registered charity, the International Stress Management Association (UK), I’m proud to say that speaking up about stress and mental health is exactly what we do. Following World Mental Health Week, we have International Stress Awareness Week coming up on Wednesday 5th – 9th November. Founded by ISMA twenty years ago, this day offers an important platform to talk about stress, how it can lead to mental health problems, and what we can do about it. [www.isma.org.uk]
Can stress-related problems be identified earlier? Yes they can. Usually, there are warning signs but they are invariably ignored. Individuals may exhibit signs that are there for others to observe such as irrational behaviour, lack of concentration or panic attacks. However, it is often the person himself who doesn’t acknowledge them.
The signs usually manifest in the form of absenteeism in the workplace, and actions can be taken to address them. One way of getting a firm handle on the problem is that repeated absenteeism should be managed by a ‘return-to-work’ interview where the manager of the individual focuses on possible stressors, either at work or home and recommends suitable interventions and adaptions in the workplace.
Speaking Up and Speaking Out
Too many people live their lives suffering from anxiety and stress. They live in fear of speaking out about it. The time is right to break through this antiquated culture and take a step of change, especially in the workplace, by showing our support for those who need support and taking the lid off stress and mental health issues.
3 Key Points
- There is still a stigma surrounding stress and mental health
- People still see it as an inability to cope
- Stress-related problems can be identified earlier
- Stress that remains unchecked can lead to serious mental health problems