One in five people suffer from workplace stress, with half a million people reporting they have become ill as a result. This article looks at the causes and remedies of stress and explains your rights.
If you have a job that challenges you, you should expect to feel some pressure at work. However, when that pressure is excessive and you suffer an adverse reaction to it, then it has become stress.
Stress is not a disease, but it can be a threat to your health and safety at work. Legally, your employer must take care of your health and safety when you are at work.
Typical causes of work-related stress include poor communication, a bad working environment and skills not matching those that are needed for the job.
Stress can also be triggered by events away from work, such as bereavement, money worries and illness.
If you think you're suffering from work-related stress, you should speak to your employer about it. The way you tackle it depends on the kind of stress you are suffering from. For instance:
Stress may be caused, deliberately or accidentally, by bullying in the workplace. If the bullying is classed as sexual (including your sexuality), religious or racial harassment, or is linked to disability, you have rights under sex, race or disability legislation. Also, if you have a disability which makes it harder for you to deal with, or more prone to suffering stress (e.g. depression), your employer has a duty to make certain adjustments to help you.
If your employer is unable or unwilling to remove the cause of your stress, you can follow the grievance procedure set out in your employment contract or company handbook. If your workplace has one, your health and safety representative can accompany you to the meeting you have with your employer.
If an employer does offer to take steps to help you (e.g. referring you to an occupational health specialist), you should accept their offer, unless there is good reason not to.
If you can't sort out a dispute through the grievance procedure and you can't carry out your job in the way your employer needs you to, you may have a claim for constructive dismissal if you consequently leave your job. However, constructive dismissal can be difficult to prove, so it's important to get advice from a specialist lawyer or other professional.
For any advice on health and safety at work, in England, Wales and Scotland, call the HSE's Infoline on 0845 345 0055 (open 8.00 am to 6.00 pm, Monday to Friday).
For any advice on health and safety at work, in Northern Ireland, call the HSENI's infoline on 0800 0320 121 (open 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday).