Stress awareness at work - what's the cost?

Posted on 28th November 2018

Stress can be described as: “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed upon them” – HSE Definition.

Prime Minister Theresa May wrote in January 2017: “Many employers are already creating healthy, inclusive workplaces, but more needs to be done so that employers provide the support needed for employees with mental health conditions.”

The reason is that the current cost of mental health to the government is between £24 – £27 billion. This includes the providing of benefits, falls in tax revenue and the cost to the NHS.

In January 2017, the Prime Minister commissioned Lord Dennis Stevenson and former Chairman of HBOS, Paul Farmer CBE (Stevenson/Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employers), to complete a study. Findings stated the UK faces a significant mental health challenge at work, with over 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems losing their jobs each year. This is a much higher number than those with physical conditions. Their research also showed that more than 15% of people at work are currently suffering from symptoms of existing mental health conditions.


So why should we as employers take notice?

It references Deloitte’s analysis of case studies where investments had been made into mental health training and support. It showed a consistently positive return on investment. The Lancet also published findings of a study from the Australian Fire Service, which found that a Stress Management Training Programme lead to a significant reduction in work related sickness absence, with an associated return on investment of £9.98 for each pound spent on the training.

An important thing to consider is stress is a personal perception. However, there are a number of consistent repeat causes of stress in the workplace. Gaining an awareness of these will help eliminate or reduce the levels of stress that people face in the workplace. It’s important to recognise that stress is often an accumulation effect. Your employees will all have very different levels of stress in their personal lives too. This will make them react differently to any potential stressors at work.


Some examples of causes that are consistently identified during workshops and discussions with employees and employers are:

  • The demands that their jobs place on them; including things such as workload, targets, working hours, expectation and shift patterns etc.
  • The lack of control that they have in the way they do their work or when; including controlling their own rest periods etc.
  • Having insufficient or incorrect information, not enough time or resources and/or a lack of managerial support in their role
  • A lack of understanding in their role, including duties or responsibilities
  • The pace and extent of any change is either too much, too fast or they don’t feel engaged in the change management process
  • Relationship issues including bullying, harassment and discrimination

These areas are highlighted in the HSE Management Standards


It is the aim of all employers to recruit the best people possible, with the right skills, knowledge and experience. It’s also wise for the employer to protect that investment by creating, developing and maintaining an environment where these people will flourish and be motivated to deliver the highest level of performance.

There are more great examples of what employers have done to manage stress and protect the wellbeing of their people. They’ve created policies that recognise the potential hazards that stress related physical, mental, emotional and financial harm can cause. And put in place some simple, inexpensive procedures to help reduce the risk of the problem arising at all.


But it isn’t just the workplace related stress of our employees that we need to be aware of, is it?

Your employees all have their own personal lives. It’s important to recognise that any stress-related illness they are suffering that’s not caused by work can still have a significant effect on your business. As an employer, of course, there are good economic, moral and ethical reasons for you to manage the stress related health of your employees. But it’s important to understand the number of legal responsibilities you have to do this too. Having the knowledge of available mental health support services in the community can help you signpost your employees to find the right help; it’s also a great and simple way for you to support your staff.

More and more leading businesses are providing stress management training for their staff. This helps them to identify common causes of stress in their places of work; develop a risk preferred approach to managing demand; and educates them to be able recognise the signs and symptoms of sufferers. In turn they can make an early intervention of support.

Take time to consider what you can do to ensure that your employees don’t become one of the 500,000 per year cases of stress-related absence from work.


All Black Head Coach, Graham Henry, said: “Take care of your people and the score will take care of itself.”

Make sure to do all you can to avoid mental health related illness becoming a problem in your business. For help recognising potential causes of stress, dealing with current issues, or avoiding future problems, please get in touch.

Graham Ravenscroft Character
Written by:
Graham Ravenscroft
Lead Performance Coach