Research commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) indicates that about half a million people in the UK experience work-related stress at a level they believe is affecting their health. In addition, up to five million people feel "very" or "extremely" stressed by their work.
According to a survey of GPs, carried out as part of the Norwich Union Healthcare's "Health of the Nation Index", our working environment poses as big a threat to our health as alcohol. In addition, 69 per cent of the GP panel interviewed say the incidence of depression attributable to the workplace environment has risen over the last five years and more than two thirds believe that workplace factors account for half of the stress cases they see.
Work-related stress costs the UK approximately 4 billion every year, so it is not surprising that the HSE has made identifying ways of dealing with it one of its priorities.
One approach has been to produce a blueprint for employers entitled "Management Standards for Stress", aimed at reducing sickness and absenteeism by setting standards aimed at easing pressure and improving the quality of life at work. The new code will introduce a legal basis for assessing the levels of stress at work and will include items such as reduction of the demands of jobs, giving staff more control over their work and giving employees better support. If less than 65 per cent to 85 per cent of employees fail to agree that the relevant standard has been met, the employer will fail the assessment. Failure will render the employer liable for prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The code is currently being piloted. The results will then be evaluated and it is hoped that it will be launched formally some time in 2004.
In addition, the HSE has published guidance, entitled "Real Solutions, Real People a manager's guide to tackling work-related stress", which aims to help businesses by giving practical advice on ways of tackling poor work design. The guide is based on a series of case studies of interventions that have been effective in other organisations. The full pack can be ordered from HSE Bookfinder.