• By Sam Cook
  • In
  • Posted Tuesday March 17, 2015

Stress in the workplace: Why should I care?

Stress is increasingly a feature of the workplace and managing it is a difficult task for any business leaders since this non-tangible condition or state of mind is very subjective to the individual. Stress is one of the most common reasons for absence or illness in the workplace and more than two fifths of employees now report that work pressures have damaged their health.

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Over two fifths claim work pressures have impacted their health

Work related stress is driving employees to smoking, drinking, over eating and lack of exercise which can all have major health consequences. Stress also has a direct impact on health, causing lack of sleep, loss of hair, lack of concentration and cardiovascular complications.

General Practice is a particular breeding ground for stress and surgeries have received a lot of media attention recently regarding the impact in of stress in this workplace.

Particular stressors in the General Practice appear to be:

  • An increase in workload (due to an increasing and aging population)
  • Budget restrictions
  • Limited resources (including people resources such as qualified GPs)
  • Increasing regulatory compliance (CQC inspections etc)
  • A poor work-life balance
  • Increasing administrative/paperwork duties
  • A lack of time to feel like the job has been done properly

GPs have received a lot of the focus due to the expected mass ‘exodus’ of the profession and the lack of trainees choosing the GP profession as a career. Some recent statistics suggest that approximately 2000 GPs under the age of 50 are planning to leave the profession in the next 50 years and 7000 GPs over the age of 50 are considering leaving too. Many of these GPs are taking early retirement, considering the private healthcare sector or looking for opportunities abroad.

GPs are not the only focus of stress in surgeries, all employees are feeling the strain of an increase in workload and regulatory demands. Reception staff are increasingly facing frustration (through no fault of their own), and sometimes the risk of violence from patients who are frustrated at the lack of availability of appointments and the sheer volume of enquiries can contribute to anxiety.

Practice Managers are also in increasingly stressful positions with pressure coming from all directions. Some of the major stressors to practice managers can be:

  • When authority is undermined by Partners
  • Conflicts of interest from staff, Partners, regulators and budgets
  • Feeling unable to make decisions
  • Unrealistic deadlines
  • Lack of support and communication

Why should employers be bothered?

According to government statistics, work-related stress, depression or anxiety counted for a whole 39% of all work-related illnesses 2013/14. This can obviously have a massive affect on the employer due to absent staff and any claims that may arise.

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There are various laws that govern stress in the workplace and it is important that employers are aware of them.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive, state that employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees and the management of stress illness or injuries. As stress is covered by these acts, HSE can inspect organisations, enforce action and prosecute organisations that don't fulfil their obligations. Some employees have been successful in personal injury claims due to psychiatric injury as a result of stress.

Employees may also take action against organisations for negligence, a breach of express or implied terms in the contract of employment, including trust and confidence, duty of care and breach of health and safety standards under Employment Rights Act 1996 and even the Human Rights Act 1998.

In some circumstances of long term severe stress, the condition has classified as a disability under the legal definition, therefore additional responsibilities for employers to make reasonable adjustments have applied. If these are not considered, it can lead to disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Stress can also be seen as reasonable mitigation for misconduct in some Employment Tribunals. As a result, unfair dismissal claims could arise.

Other issues that could arise include:

  • Poor work performance
  • Poor attendance
  • Inability to attract new employees
  • Poor retention
  • Poor CQC inspection results – ‘Is your practice well led?’
  • Increased grievances and people-issues to manage

What can be done?

It is essential that systems are put in place to manage stress in the workplace.  FPM has created a one-stop tool - ‘Stress – Practice Tool for Addressing Stress in the Workplace’ - which can help you put  these in.  The tool for FPM members can be found in the alphabetic index in the FPM policies and procedures library  and includes:

Prevention:

  • Management Brief
  • Stress signals – how to identify stress
  • Stress audits
  • Management approach audits

Remedies:

  • Stress risk assessments (for the practice)
  • Stress risk assessments (for individuals)

When tackling a stress problem in the practice, carrying out a risk assessment and identifying what can be done to address this is the recommended approach. Our tool includes a template adapted for GP Practices with tips on how to address common issues.

Other areas to look at include:

  • Occupational Health – OH can support with individual’s stress
  • Training – has lack of training/skills been identified as a potential cause
  • Mentoring/professional support

For specific queries regarding stress in the workplace contact advice@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk where you question will be treated in confidence and will normally be answered (by email) within 2 working days of submission.

Alternatively, there is also further information on stress in the workplace in the Health and Safety Guidance area on the FPM website.

 

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