Stress, depression, anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders accounted for most sick days taken in 2017/18.
With a supportive workplace culture, work-related stress can be reduced before it results in the kind of burn-out that requires time off. Burn-out happens when an individual feels they can no longer cope with the stress they're under.
It can build up slowly over time, or it can happen suddenly when several stressful events or situations coincide to become unmanageable. Different people handle stress differently, and the symptoms manifest in a variety of ways.
Work-related stress is far more common than it should be, and there's plenty employers can be doing to lower this risk, including the following:
1. Offer agile working
Most of us enjoy having the freedom to choose. Choice gives us flexibility. It makes us resilient and adaptable. Life isn't rigid, so why should work be? The traditional 9-5, 5-day working week is looking increasingly dated in a world where we can easily access documents and systems almost anywhere, any time through the Internet and our portable devices.
More and more organisations are adopting agile working practices. The office remains a good base for focused work and collaboration, but staff should be given the tools to hot-desk, work on the go and work from home whenever it's suitable.
It's time to ask how much stress is caused by the daily grind. Not the work itself, but the cyclical routine of having to be somewhere between specific times every day, regardless of what life throws at us. Humans require stimulation to thrive.
Why shouldn't workplaces reflect this?
2. Provide comfy ergonomic equipment
Ergonomic chairs and other office equipment shouldn't just be bought in for employees who complain of bad backs. Ergonomic equipment is not a cure: it's supposed to prevent musculoskeletal problems from even getting the chance to start.
Adjustable chairs and thoughtfully designed computer accessories are comfortable to use. It feels better to work with a workstation that's been set up according to DSE principles. With good posture you breathe better, you think clearer, you don't go home at the end of the day feeling achy and fatigued.
The emotional impact of being in pain is huge, and if that pain is being caused by office equipment then that equipment needs upgrading.
3. Encourage microbreaks
Taking a regular short breather from whatever you're doing is good for your stress levels. The problem in many workplaces is the fear of looking like a slacker. If you keep getting up to stride around the office every half and hour, won't people think you're avoiding work?
For employees to feel comfortable taking microbreaks, managers need get on board and lead by example. Make it clear that getting up is not just okay but encouraged.
4. Health, safety and wellbeing training
By law, staff should be trained to recognise health and safety risks in the workplace so that they can protect themselves. Stress awareness training is not compulsory, but it is a good way of helping staff identify signs of work-related stress in themselves and others.
5. Sit-stand desks and active working
Physical activity can have a profoundly positive impact on mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, computer work is by nature sedentary and most offices fail to encourage suitable levels of activity. Active working is the principle of incorporating more physical activity into day-to-day office life. Here are some ways to achieve it:
6. Employee benefits
When it comes to staff perks, it's important to consider what will have the biggest impact. What do staff value most? Perks that benefit wellbeing include duvet days (where staff can take an impromptu day off if they feel they need it), sabbaticals, paid volunteer days, and even bring-your-dog-to-work day.
7. Wellbeing committee
Ask for volunteers to lead a wellbeing committee. They can organise awareness events, training days, resources and activities geared up to help staff manage their stress levels.