Pressure in work is common amongst many professions. The doctor feels pressure to save the life of a patient going into cardiac arrest; the construction foreman feels pressure to monitor the progress of a project and keep it on track; the call centre sales operative feels pressure to meet their monthly targets. This type of pressure is healthy and can be part of what makes a job satisfying. Exposure to prolonged, excessive pressure however causes stress, which can soon become unhealthy and in some cases lead to serious psychiatric illness.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. They contend there are six main areas that can lead to work-related stress if they are not managed properly: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change.
Employees may say they:
- are unable to cope with the demands of their jobs;
- are unable to control the way they do their work;
- don’t receive enough information and support;
- are having trouble with relationships at work, or are being bullied;
- don’t fully understand their role and responsibilities; or
- are not engaged when a business is undergoing change.
If an employee starts acting differently, it can be a warning sign they are stressed. They may take more time off, arrive for work later, or lose their motivation, commitment and confidence. As the stress increases, there may be more obvious signs, such as twitchiness or nervousness, mood swings, being withdrawn or being more tearful, sensitive or aggressive. Critically, if there is something wrong at work, and this has caused the problem, managers should take action. There is a tendency for employers to simply carry on as normal and treat a stressed employee as simply an irritation or a liability.
Whilst research offers differing figures, it is clear the issue of work-related stress is a serious and increasingly common issue faced by the UK workforce. An HSE study conducted in 2015-2016 showed the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the UK in 2015/16 was 488,000 – a staggering 37% of all work-related ill health cases. The main factors cited by respondents as causing such illness were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility, and a lack of managerial support. Healthcare workers, teachers, business, media and public service professionals were identified as those most at risk. Considering the impact which austerity measures has had on individuals, namely their perceived and actual lack of job security as well as increased workloads because of budget cuts, there is scope for an even further increase if not explosion in stress at work claims.
At Davis Blank Furniss, we have recently seen a twofold increase in the amount of stress at work claims we handle. We have found these cases often arise where an employee suffers from a recognisable psychiatric condition – commonly depression and/or anxiety – as a result of their employer’s conduct.
It is essential in any work-related stress claim that the injury (be it stress, depression or anxiety) was foreseeable to an employer. Whilst employees often do not want to appear weak to their employer or draw attention to work-related issues they are having out of fear of jeopardising their job, it is crucial that any such issues are made aware to an employer in writing. Additionally, any minutes of meetings, appraisals or grievances concerning the employee’s issues can all contribute to the evidential paper trail and highlight that an employer should have foreseen psychiatric injury being done. Where an employee has only raised such issues informally or orally, it is quite straightforward for an employer to deny any such interactions and claim the injury could not have been foreseeable.
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