A Spotlight on Stress: Mental Health in the Workplace

Workers stressed at work

The UK has been ranked below the global average for mental wellbeing, with more than a quarter of individuals that suffer from stress claiming that work is the reason for their condition (Cigna, 2018).

Stress, depression and anxiety are all too common in the workplace and accounted for 15.4 million workings days lost and 57% of all working days lost due to ill health in 2017/18.

In the same year, mental ill health affected 595,000 workers, with 239,000 of these being new cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety (HSE, 2018).

Working days lost

Managing Stress at Work

The issue of work-related stress is a priority on many business agendas, with professionals across industries commenting on the prevalent nature of the problem. A timely, government-commissioned ‘Thriving at Work’ report (Stevenson and Farmer, 2017) states:

“At a time when there is a national focus on productivity the inescapable conclusion is that it is massively in the interest of both employers and Government to prioritise and invest far more in improving mental health.”

Mental health does not suggest ‘mental ill health’ but instead a general state that employees at all levels deal with, fluctuating from very good to very bad and everything in between. An individual could have a bad mental health problem but be thriving at work with the correct support.

Any workforce can be healthy and thriving with the right nurturing and support. It’s important that staff at all levels are educated to feel confident to spot the signs of work-related stress and to tackle it in the appropriate manner.

We asked Anna Bishop, training product manager, to tell us more about stress and its symptoms, how it can be recognised and addressed and how a mental wellbeing and resilience course with the Red Cross can help.

Workplace stress

What is stress?

Anna: Stress is a feeling of strain or pressure and it affects how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. Everyone needs a certain amount of stress or pressure to live well. It's what gets you out of bed in the morning and motivates you throughout the day. However, stress becomes problematic when there's too much or too little.

What causes stress?

Anna: Many aspects of life can cause stress, such as money problems, work issues or difficult relationships. People often feel over-stressed as a result of an event or 'trigger'. This doesn't have to be negative, such as the death of a loved one, redundancy or divorce, it can also be seemingly positive like a new partner, new job or going on holiday. Good things can sometimes eventually come out of very difficult circumstances although it is really hard to imagine that when distressed.

Feelings of stress can occur over a short period of time or can be chronic and ongoing, for example when someone is coping with long-term unemployment or is stuck in a bad relationship.

People have different ways of dealing with stress. Some situations that may be motivating to one person could feel stressful to someone else.

How do you deal with stress at work?

Anna: Understanding the causes of stress and its effects can help enable us to work through it and to identify what or who may help. For some this may be a supportive network such as colleagues, family or friends. Depending on the situation it may be something more practical such as changing a way of working to evenly share the workload amongst a team.

Within our training we look at the CALMER framework, which is a tool used to help us support ourselves and others through difficult/challenging situations, including stress. The CALMER framework stands for: Consider, Acknowledge, Listen, Manage, Enable, Resource.

How can the Red Cross help?

Anna: Our mental wellbeing and resilience courses aim to help people cope, support and manage stress and emotionally challenging situations in both their work and personal lives. The Red Cross use a framework called CALMER to help focus your response when dealing with emotionally challenging situations.

Stress is a way of life

Mental Health Awareness in Action

Working in partnership with insurance company Aviva, the Red Cross has helped to make a positive difference to the lives and mental wellbeing of its staff and customers. Following the catastrophic floods of 2015/16, many Aviva customers went through a traumatic experience after their properties were ruined by water.

Gavin Scaife, technical claims team member at Aviva explains:

“We recognised that our customers needed emotional support and or employees needed support to help when speaking to people in a crisis. Working with experts in the Red Cross, we’ve developed a training programme for our field claims employees. This is a first in the industry and it’s already making a significant, positive difference to our customers and our people.”

Since 2016, over 95% of Aviva customer facing staff have now completed mental wellbeing training with the Red Cross.

* Health and safety at work statistics for Great Britain 2018