Work-related stress is the reaction people have to demands of various types and combinations which exceeds their capacity and capability to cope. It is a well known problem within the educational sector and a major cause of staff ill-health. Stress is not an illness, but if it becomes excessive and prolonged it can lead to mental or physical ill-health.
As part of commitment to staff wellbeing, the University wants to to be able to identify and address the causes of work related stress. This page explains what the University is doing. If you want; information on managing stress or about support services available follow the appropriate links on the right hand side of this page.
Below you will find information on:
- The Stress Policy
- HSE Management Standards
- The Staff Survey
- Why managing stress is important to the University
The Stress Management Policy was approved by Council in July 2011.
The Stress Policy Review Group (SPRG) was set up to review the University's Stress Management Policy and approach to managing stress. It was chaired by a Pro-Vice Chancellor (initially by Professor Rob Massara and more recently by; Jules Pretty) and included representatives from three Trade Unions (Unison, Unite and UCU).
The Group has reviewed the Stress Management Policy. The final version was approved by Council in July 2011. It also initiated the Working Well Survey and oversaw the refresh of this website. The Group has also made recommendations regarding future training needs.
At the last meeting the Group felt that it had fulfilled its remit, and that ongoing monitoring of the implementation and effectiveness of the Policy could be undertaken by the Health and Safety Committee. It was therefore agreed that the Group would be disbanded at this time. The Health and Safety Committee will be able to reform a Stress Policy Review Group as and when the need arises.
One of the aims of the Stress Management Policy is to reduce the risk of occupational stress through the development of good working practices, based on the HSE Management Standards.
The HSE Management Standards define the characteristics or culture of an organisation where the risks from work-related stress are being effectively managed and controlled. They cover six key areas of work design that, if not properly managed, can be sources of stress.
The Management Standards cover:
- Demands workload, work patterns and the work environment.
- Control how much say the person has in the way they do their work.
- Support the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.
- Relationships promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
- Change how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.
- Role whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles.
The Staff Survey is carried out regularly. It helps us to measure how well we are doing against the HSE Management Standards. Findings obtained from this survey is used to develop a University wide plans to improve particular areas of concern and to focus support on areas where there is the greatest concerns about work stress. You are strongly encouraged to complete the survey as your feedback helps us to reduce the risk of occupational stress and support those who experience it. You can find out more about the survey by visiting the Staff Survey website.
At any time nearly one in six of the British workforce is affected by a mental health condition such as stress, depression or anxiety. It is estimated that mental health problems account for around 40% of sickness absence (which equates to around 2.8 days per person per year) and that stress and mental health may account for up to 5% of total staff turnover1. HSE Statistics2 show that stress, anxiety and depression are major causes of work related ill health with around 1/3 of the 1.3 million workers who say they have suffered work-related ill health, attributing it to stress. The HSE has also identified that the education sector has a higher prevalence of stress than most other industries.
We do not currently have statistics on absence through stress at the University of Essex, but it is unlikely that it is significantly different to other workplaces and Universities. Stress and stress related absence is therefore likely to be having a significant impact on individuals, teams, Departments, and the University.
Employees experiencing stress may have symptoms such as headaches, irritability, poor concentration, tiredness and anxiety. They may lose interest in their work, have difficulty making decisions, make more mistakes or have a lower resistance to infection. This will impact on work performance and productivity and lead to increased absenteeism, staff turnover and accident rates. If stress is not addressed, they may develop mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, or physical health problems, such as heart disease, upper limb or digestive disorders.
These long term effects have an even greater impact, as the University will have to bear the costs of long term sickness absences, ill health retirements, the replacement and retraining of employees, and possible litigation. Stress is recognised as a health and safety issue and failure to address it could lead to enforcement action, impacting negatively on the Universitys reputation.
It is generally accepted that the longer an employee is absent from work with stress, the harder it is for them to return. This will have a significant effect on their emotional and economic wellbeing and Departments risk losing a valuable member of their team.
As a university that wants to be recognised for its world-class standard research, we cannot afford to lose the knowledge and expertise of our world-class researchers, or the staff who support them. Absence of team members will increase pressure on other employees, making it harder for the team to meet its objectives or to give students a quality teaching experience.