17 December 2013

Stress at work

On 15 February 2013, senior city solicitor David Latham committed suicide by throwing himself under a tube train. According to evidence which came to light at the inquest into his death, Mr Latham was struggling to deal with stress in the run-up to a big case and had suffered a number of sleepless nights just before committing suicide.

This story came almost two years after Lloyds’ boss António Horta-Osório took an enforced two month break from his role in November 2011, a mere six months after being appointed, citing extreme fatigue and stress. The BBC website’s headline ‘Lloyds’ boss flunks stress test’ received such negative publicity that the Corporation’s Business editor Robert Preston was forced to issue a subsequent clarification in the article that he would never trivialise stress. 

More recently, one of Barclays’ most senior bankers Sir Hector Sants was reportedly forced to temporarily quit his job due to exhaustion and stress.

The effect of stress at the workplace has long been considered a taboo subject and one that people have been reluctant to address. In the fast paced world of the city where the ‘on-demand’ culture is prevalent, stress is considered to be endemic and an individual’s competence is often equated to his or her ability to deal with it. Senior professionals are expected to have an even higher tolerance for stress and any mention of it is taken as a sign of weakness, which in such a cut-throat environment could prove career-ending.

Therefore, many organisations are not in the best position to deal with the signs and symptoms of work-related stress, even though employers owe their employees duties under health and safety laws to monitor and control the risks arising from it.

However, cases like the one involving Mr Horta-Osório, where despite a fall in Lloyds’ share price and extensive speculation regarding his future Mr Horta-Osório eventually returned to his post in January 2012, are slowly changing the tide and professionals are being welcomed back to the top after a period of recuperation and restoration. 

It is therefore up to the organisations themselves to spearhead a change by promoting a culture where mental health can be discussed without the fear of discrimination and where employees’ concerns can be addressed confidentially and effectively.  

In order to assist workplaces tackle work related stress, the HSE has developed a five step process to ensure that risks from work related stress are effectively assessed and managed. 

The five steps are:                                                                                

1.                   Identify the risk factors – What are the general and specific risks to your organisation?

2.                   Who can be harmed and how – Acknowledge that work related stress can potentially affect any member of staff but evaluate the data to try to indentify specific problem areas and triggers

3.                   Evaluate the risks – Conduct a thorough risk assessment in partnership with employees and feed back results to managers

4.                   Record your findings - Develop and implement a plan

5.                   Monitor and review - Ensure that the effectiveness of the solutions is constantly evaluated 

There is a perception that risk assessments around stress are so difficult that they are frequently notundertaken .Butwith more and more workplaces recognising the cost of employees being absent from work due to ill health there is a gradual recognition that investing in the management of stress at work is not only a legal requirement but makes business sense.

Category: Article