knowledge | 13 December 2018 |

Workplace Stress Doubles – ESRI Study

A new ESRI study, funded by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), finds that workplace stress among employees in Ireland doubled from 8% in 2010 to 17% in 2015. Ireland was one of the countries showing the steepest increase in workplace stress between 2010 and 2015. However, the level of workplace stress in Ireland was still below the average for ten Western European countries in 2015 (19%). The closest comparator to Ireland is the UK, where workplace stress was similarly reported at 18%, with women being more likely to report workplace stress than men. Workers in Ireland were more likely to report the pressures of emotional demands and exposure to bullying, harassment and other forms of mistreatment, but less likely to report time pressure than fellow Western Europeans.

What is contributing to stress?

The workplace demands most likely to result in people reporting high levels of stress were emotional demands, time pressure, bullying, harassment, violence, discrimination, effort-reward imbalance, and long working hours. Meanwhile, employees who had support from co-workers and managers, who felt that the job they were doing was useful or who felt that they had done their work well were less likely to report experiencing stress. Having internal support systems in the workplace could be a useful way of managing workplace stress.

Stress Table

Employees in the Health sector (18%), Public Administration (16%) and the Manufacturing sector (15%) experience the highest levels of workplace stress. The occupational groups most likely to experience workplace stress are technical/associate professionals (20%), professionals (16%) and managers (14%).

The report highlights the importance for employers to be proactive in putting in place policies and internal structures to help employees deal with the increasing level of workplace stress. In addition to having an interest in taking care of your employees mental health, it is a legal obligation. Employers have a duty of care to protect their employees from any personal injury, and this includes injury to mental health arising from workplace stress which could have otherwise been managed by the employer. There is increasing evidence from international studies indicating poor physical and mental health stemming directly from workplace stress can have serious outcomes for employees, such as cardiovascular disease and depression. Employers can be even more directly affected by a reduced morale in their workforce and an increased level of absenteeism. The British Health and Safety Executive estimates the cost of work-related stress, anxiety and depression to be in the region of £5.2 billion in the UK for the year 2013/2014.

What can employers do?

The report identifies four areas where employers can take positive steps to manage workplace stress.

(1) The report looks at managing high job demands, such as putting in place formal policies and organisational culture to address psychosocial risks such as bullying, harassment and violence. Employees working more than 40 hours per week were more likely to report stress, so where possible, employers should emphasise to employees the need to take adequate rest periods.

(2) The report recommends creating a supportive organisational environment with enhanced worker resources to combat stress levels and boost morale.

(3) If employers know that their employees work in particularly stressful fields, such as the health sector or public administration, then they should be more proactive in taking steps to combat stress at early stages.

(4) The report recommends employers begin improving their data collection regarding stress levels at work. If an employer knows its workers, they can spot stress at an earlier stage and take steps to combat it before it goes too far.

How can we help?

The Employment, Pensions and Incentives Group at McCann FitzGerald work with employers across all sectors in developing appropriate practices, policies and strategies to ensure an optimum workplace environment. The Group also advise on best practice responses to workplace stress issues as well liaising with Occupational Health experts to address issues at the earliest possible time.

This briefing is for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.

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