Working days lost to stress increased by nearly a quarter in 2017 according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), leading to calls for a “culture change” in how bosses deal with the “growing epidemic”.
HSE figures released ahead of “National Stress Awareness Day” tomorrow (November 7), show that 15.4m days were lost to stress last year, compared to 12.5m the year before.
The number of individuals suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety also increased, from 526,000 in 2016 to 595,000 in 2017.
Overall, stress, depression and anxiety were responsible for 57 per cent of all lost working days in 2017, the HSE found.
Professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester University business school, Cary Cooper, said bad bosses should shoulder much of the blame for the rise in stress-related conditions.
“A major cause of stress is line managers from shop floor to top floor. We have technologically competent managers throughout public and private sector bodies but they don’t have emotional intelligence,” Cooper told the BBC.
“They don’t have the soft skills, the social and interpersonal skills, to recognise when people aren’t coping, to team build properly, to allow flexible working. We need more investment in mental health but in the workplace we need a different kind of culture.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said it is “not an over exaggeration” to call workplace stress an “epidemic”.
Turner said Unite has been instrumental in providing mental health training for union reps and works with the firms such as United Biscuits owner Pladis under the “Time to Change” scheme, in order to better enable those suffering from mental illness to escape discrimination and access support.
“The union is also always on hand to stand up to bosses and employers who are treating their staff unjustly or putting their mental or physical wellbeing at risk for whatever reason,” Turner said.
“But Professor Cooper is correct in identifying the need for a culture change, particularly by bosses who are too often blind to the fact that workplaces will be healthier and more productive if the needs of staff are taken into account.”
Turner said that trade unions are vital to bringing about that change, “but action must also come from the government and the HSE to ensure that employers are held to higher standards when it comes to protecting the mental health of their staff”.
He added, “Employers must also make sure their line managers are provided with the training and tools to ensure they are not part of the problem.”