Today is the International Labour Organizations (ILO) World Day for Safety and Health at Work Day. The awareness raising campaign, held annually on 28th April, aims to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally. This year, the theme is “Workplace Stress: a collective challenge”.
In recent decades, globalisation and technological progress have transformed the world of work. Today, many workers are facing immense pressure to meet the demands of increased competition, higher expectations and longer working hours, all of which are contributing to the increase of work-related stress and its associated disorders.
The impact of stress on worker’s health and wellbeing
Overwhelming research has shown that stress can have a serious impact on both the physical and mental health of employees. As well as musculoskeletal disorders from high workloads and demands, the risks of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, are at least 50% higher among those suffering from stress at work. Stressful working conditions have also been shown to directly impact on the wellbeing of employees by contributing to harmful lifestyle behaviours which increase health risks such as heavy alcohol consumption, obesity, lack of exercise, smoking and sleep disorders.
Globally, depression is estimated to affect 350 million people and is one of the leading causes of mental disability and premature mortality for both women and men, as well as other conditions including anxiety, decreased energy and insomnia. Studies have shown that those working under stressful conditions are four times more likely to experience depression, as well as other mental ill-health.
Stress related illness not only impacts an individual, but can have high repercussions on all employees. Human error plays a role in many workplace accidents, with a growing number of studies highlighting work-related stress as a contributory factor. High workload and job demands, low decision latitude, low skill discretion, lack of organisational support, conflicts with supervisors and colleagues, or highly monotonous work are all linked to a higher likelihood of injury in an occupational accident.
Read the full ILO report on work related stress.
10 ways to reduce stress at work
The magnitude of work-related stress and its impact on the global population is evident throughout the ILO’s report. Unfortunately, evidence also shows that the incidence and severity are increasing, leading to the ILO encouraging a collective approach to help prevent work-related stress and promote mental health awareness.
Read these 10 suggestions to see how you can help reduce stress in your workplace.
1. Ask for help.
We all need help from time to time. Maintaining open communication with your manager and colleagues and discussing your workload can help reduce your tasks and solve any problems you may be having.
2. Balance your time.
Trying to do too many things at once can be overwhelming and often takes up more time than necessary. Managing your workload by prioritising your tasks and creating realistic timeframes can help you monitor how much time you are spending on work.
3. Reward yourself for achievements.
Research tells us that we are more likely to focus on negative aspects of our lives than positive. It’s so easy to get caught up on setbacks or the list of things that needs to be done, that we forget about the all of the progress we’ve already made. Take a step back and acknowledge how far you’ve come. Give yourself a pat on the back and reward yourself for your successes. You’ve worked hard, you deserve it.
4. Don’t fear failure.
Nobody has to be perfect all of the time. Mistakes and failures are going to happen and that’s ok. More often than not they will offer us powerful lessons which can be used in the future, so be realistic and embrace the bad along with the good.
5. Take short breaks throughout the day.
Longer working hours and increased workloads are leaving workers under immense pressure to get things done, but it’s important for both mental and physical health to remember to take regular breaks. As well as taking at least half-an-hour away from your desk for lunch, try taking a few minutes to walk around the office or getting some fresh air outside.
6. Take some time off.
If things get too much, taking a few days off or a long weekend can help you feel refreshed and actually increase your productivity in the long-run. Use the holidays you're entitled to.
7. Don't let your life be work.
A Mental Health Foundation survey found that more than 40% of employees neglect other aspects of their life because of work. Remember to nurture outside relationships, interests and skills that your job doesn’t use to enjoy a solid work-life balance.
8. Don’t take your work home with you.
It can be hard to switch off after a day at work, especially if you have a long list of tasks to do the next day. Developing ‘end of day habits’ such as tidying your desk before you leave, or making a list of what needs to be done tomorrow will allow you to bring your working day to a close and help detach yourself from work for the rest of the evening.
9. Make a ‘Wellness Action Plan’
Developing a Wellness Action Plan (WAP) can help you to reflect on the causes of stress and take ownership of practical steps to address these triggers. You can also make use of other support already on offer within your organisation; most companies will provide employee assistance programmes which give advice and counselling or internal systems such as mentoring or buddy systems.
10. Speak up if you don’t feel supported.
If you feel you can't talk to your boss, speak or write to your human resources department or trade union representative if you have one.