The information on this page is a guide to some of the issues and topics that relate to employee health and well being. Click on the subject of each topic for information.
Assertiveness is the ability to effectively represent yourself and your rights without violating the rights of others. It is direct and honest communication. Acting assertively will allow you to feel self-confident and to gain the respect of your colleagues and friends. Empathetic assertiveness improves relationships and personal well being and gives control in everyday situations. This, in turn, improves decision-making and enables you to get what you really want from life.
Assertiveness essentially means the ability to express your thoughts and feelings in ways that clearly state your needs and keeps the lines of communication open with the other. However, before you can comfortably express your needs, you must acknowledge that you have a legitimate right to have those needs. Keep in mind that you have the right to:
- state your own needs and priorities clearly
- ask to be treated with respect
- express your feelings
- express your values and opinions
- state clearly what you will and will not do
- admit mistakes
- say if you don't understand
- ask for what you want
Workplace stress commonly arises because of behaviour that can be described as bullying. Bullying can arise at all levels in an organisation; it is not necessarily just management behaviour.
Bullying is not always deliberate and conscious. It may be that the person bullying is under pressure and is reacting hastily and out of character. Also, bullying takes a number of forms some of which might not be immediately obvious. The following list identifies areas of possible bullying behaviour:
- Aggression, threats & shouting
- Humiliation, ridicule or criticism
- Excessive supervision
- Taking credit for others’ work
- Removing responsibility
- Setting people up to fail
- Withholding information
- Blocking opportunities
Depression is a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. These problems can become chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individual's ability to take care of their everyday responsibilities. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, a tragic fatality associated with the loss of about 850,000 lives across the world every year.
According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of disability and the fourth leading contributor to the global burden of disease. By the year 2020, depression is projected to reach second place of the ranking of disease. Depression occurs in people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds.
Depression is not the same thing as stress. However, it is possible that depression might be one of the results of stress for some people. Bear in mind that:
- Depression is common, affecting more than 100 million people worldwide.
- Depression can be reliably diagnosed and treated in primary care.
- Antidepressant medications and structured forms of psychotherapy are effective for the majority of those affected
Emotional Intelligence can be defined as the awareness of and ability to manage one's emotions in a healthy and productive manner.
According to Time Magazine, Emotional intelligence, ‘may be the best predictor of success in life.’ According to the landmark book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ by Dr Daniel Golman evidence suggests that it is ‘as powerful, and at times more powerful, than IQ’ and provides an advantage in any domain of life.
Our programme for developing emotional intelligence focusses on the following core skills:
- being aware of your emotions
- managing your emotions
- motivating yourself
- being empathetic
- handling relationships
Humans seem strangely ill-equipped to handle the pressures of the modern world. People are really designed to cope with more primitive threats, such as attack from a predator. This triggers the so-called ‘fight or flight’ response. When people perceive a threat, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released to raise the heart rate, increase alertness and tense the muscles.
Today’s challenges are much more complex and prolonged than those that humans used to encounter many thousands of years ago. If a person's state of readiness is extended for any length of time, then the fight or flight reaction may induce those panicky, out-of-control feelings associated with stress. If this continues without relief, then there is a risk of damage to physical health through an impaired immune system, muscular pain and raised blood pressure.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the arm of government set up to protect people in Great Britain against risks to health or safety arising out of work activities; to conduct and sponsor research; promote training; provide an information and advisory service; and submit proposals for new or revised regulations and approved codes of practice.
For some time, HSE has taken an interest in 'psychosocial' risk exposures and warned that enforcement action could be taken against employers who fail to address this area of hazard. In November 2004, HSE published the Management Standards for workplace stress. The Management Standards provide a basis for undertaking a structured workplace stress risk assessment. They are based on six key areas of potential risk which were identified by research as most likely to be associated with reports of employee stress. Further information on the risk areas is provided in the Risk Assessment section.
Whether or not you have direct responsibility for others at work, you can behave in ways that set examples and provide leadership for colleagues who might be affected by stress. Leadership behaviours that have been shown to reduce stress in others include:
- Showing genuine concern
- Being accessible
- Encouraging questioning
- Being honest and consistent
- Acting with integrity
- Inspiring others
- Supporting a development culture
A real key to successful leadership is giving recognition. People need to be valued and to be reassured that their efforts make a difference. Find opportunities to give positive feedback. If necessary, go out of your way to ‘catch people doing something right’. Recognition and praise will:
- Encourage people to repeat constructive behaviours
- Build confidence and self-esteem
- Promote a sense of belonging
- Ensure the organisation remains people centred
There are two areas of legal concern relating to stress at work:
1. Statute law, or legislation. This sets out the mandatory responsibilities for employers and individuals. Non compliance can result in legal proceedings including prosecution. Relevant statutes include the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974, requiring employers to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, 1999, requiring employers to undertake assessments of health and safety risks.
2. Civil law. Within civil law, employers owe a duty of care to their employees. Employers may be in breach of this duty if it can be shown that:
- The employee suffered a stress related injury
- The injury resulted from circumstances in the workplace
- The injury to the employee was foreseeable by the employer
- The employer was negligent
Settlements for work-induced stress claims have often been high, reaching £300,000. Typically, high claims include high levels of loss of earnings (the income the claimant would have received had they continued to work) because stress victims can be young, and can be unable to undertake any sort of work for relatively long periods.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP is not very precisely defined. It can be described as a therapeutic process which enables you to break old patterns and generate new potential using posture, breathing, specific exercises, and awareness and communication skills.
NLP is an empirical approach to personal development, less concerned with why something works and more concerned with whether it works. Behaviours that are observed to work and to produce desired outcomes are built into practical programmes for personal use.
Approaches used in NLP include:
- Developing clear outcomes
- Ensuring clarity of personal values
- Observing and mirroring successful behaviours
- Establishing rapport through matching with the other person
- Understanding the different ways in which people receive information
- Recognising the power of language
- Accepting that the value of a communication is only the result it achieves
A risk assessment is a careful examination of what could cause harm to people. The intention is to review whether enough is being done to protect individuals at work, or whether further action is needed. Assessment of workplace risk is a legal requirement.
The Health and Safety Executive management standards provide a basis for undertaking a structured workplace stress risk assessment. They are based on six key areas of potential risk which were identified by research as most likely to be associated with reports of employee stress. Within each of the assessment areas the standard is defined, and a set of actions and desired states is described. The risk areas are as follows:
- DEMANDS Includes issues like workload, work patterns, and the work environment.
- CONTROL How much say a person has in the way they do their work.
- SUPPORT Includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.
- RELATIONSHIPS Includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
- ROLE Whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that the person does not have conflicting roles.
- CHANGE How organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.
If the risk assessment identifies areas of concern, it is important to prepare an action plan. This will:
- Help set goals to work towards
- Help decide on priorities
- Demonstrate commitment
- Provide something to evaluate and review against
UK sickness absence currently results in 164 million lost working days, at a cost of £13 billion to the UK economy. Psychological problems, notably employee stress, now represent the leading cause of absence.
The key to effective management of sickness absence is the introduction of programmes that are seen to be in the interest of both the employer and the employees. Employers gain greater efficiency and productivity, while employees recognise the employer’s commitment to their health and well being.
Key features of effective absence management include:
- Accurate and meaningful measurement of absence
- Very rapid intervention and support for absent employees
- High quality stress management programmes and training
- Rehabilitation of employees following absence
- Appropriate healthcare support services
- Management accountability for absence levels within their areas of responsibility
- Management data that enables effective intervention programmes to be introduced
- Suitable training for managers and employees
- Effective and consistent return to work interviews
- Leadership and commitment to employee health from the top
Stress can be defined as the condition experienced when someone perceives that they are unable to meet the demands placed upon them.
It is common to think of stress and pressure as being the same. They are not! We all need pressure in our lives to provide stimulus and motivation. Stress is the result of an inappropriate level of pressure. Too little and we can be bored and unfulfilled. Too much and we may become tense and anxious.
Causes of stress
Stress is a personal experience. What stresses one person will not necessarily stress another. However, this list covers events that often present problems in everyday life.
- Victim of crime
- Change in job
- Illness or absence
- Threat of redundancy
- Financial difficulty
- Problems with boss
- Sexual difficulties
- Problems with children
- House move
- Problems with partner
- Problems with house
- Problems with parents
- Excessive work load
- Problems with friends
- Too little work
- Problems with neighbours
- Problems with pets
- Limited social life
- Dealing with the public
- Life not going anywhere
- Speaking in public
- Any big change
It is worth noting that stress might also be the result of the sheer volume of pressures, none of which would be particularly troublesome in itself, rather than a single major event. Causes of stress at work Many of us spend most of our waking lives at work, so it is hardly surprising that work is a common source of stress for many people. Research has shown that the following characteristics of work are most likely to result in reports of stress.
- Lack of personal control
- Prolonged pressure to perform
- Conflicting demands
- Continuous threat of aggression
- Harassment or bullying
- Ill defined work roles
- Poor working relationships
- Poor communications
- Lack of recognition
- Job insecurity
- Excessive workload through staff reductions
- Excessive working hours
- Monotonous work
- Changes in the workplace
- Difficulty balancing the demands of home and work
It is a legal requirement within the Health and Safety at Work Act for every employer to prepare a written statement of their health and safety policy, and to bring this to the attention of all employees. It is now expected that stress will be included within this requirement. A checklist of items for consideration within such a policy is as follows:
- Organisation’s commitment to the welfare and wellbeing of their employees
- Responsibilities of managers
- Responsibilities of all employees
- Responsibilities of specialists (Human Resources advisers, Health and Safety professionals etc)
- Duties of organisational bodies (committees etc)
- Procedure to be followed by individuals experiencing personal stress or observing stress in others
- Facilities provided by the organisation (for example occupational health or counselling)
- Staff and management training in stress
- Procedures for consulting with staff (for example through trade unions)
- Process for undertaking stress risk assessments and sharing findings with employees
The power of the team is vital in developing positive business cultures that value individuals and promote their well being and happiness. Effective teams are those that recognise the contribution of each member, and that work toward shared goals and values.
One of the most important developments in understanding team dynamics was the work of Dr Meredith Belbin and his researchers in the 1980’s. Belbin found that teams comprising only the 'brightest and best' people often performed very badly. The reason was that they lacked the diversity of skills needed to function effectively in the business world.
Belbin identified nine types of team player and proposed that the ideal team should have a mix of characteristics. The types were:
- Plant, creative and imaginative
- Resource investigator, extrovert and communicative
- Co-ordinator, mature and confident
- Shaper, challenging and dynamic
- Monitor evaluator, strategic and discerning
- Teamworker, co-operative and diplomatic
- Implementer, disciplined and reliable
- Completer, painstaking and conscientious
- Specialist, skilled and single-minded
In our own work with teams, we look at the mix of team skills and team relationships. We then seek to build understanding and appreciation in the team of the diversity of skills, and to address any gaps or communication problems that may arise between people with different talents.
People’s reactions to stressful situations vary. Reactions may be behavioural or physical. These checklists indicate some of the more common warning signs.
- Critical and negative
- Irritable and aggressive
- Withdrawn and moody
- Sleep disorders
- Rapid mood changes
- Panic attacks
- Low self esteem and self confidence
- Eating, drinking and smoking more
- Stomach disorders
- Chest pains
- Asthma attacks
- Raised blood pressure
- Skin rashes
- Muscle and back pain
- Lack of energy
Of course, all of these conditions can have causes other than stress. If you have any of these symptoms and feel they may be an indication of illness, you should see your doctor to have it checked.