Definition of stress
HSE's formal definition of work-related stress is:
'The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.'
Stress is not an illness – it is a state. However, if stress becomes too excessive and prolonged, mental and physical illness may develop.
Work is generally good forpeople if it is well designed, but it can also be a great source of pressure. There is a difference between pressure and stress. Pressure can be positive and a motivating factor, and is often essential in a job. It can help us achieve our goals and perform better. Stress occurs when this pressure becomes excessive. Stress is a natural reaction to too much pressure.
Balancing demands andpressures with skills and knowledge
A person experiences stress when they perceive that the demands of their work are greater than their ability to cope. Coping means balancing the demands and pressures placed on you (i.e. the job requirements) with your skills and knowledge (i.e. your capabilities). For example, if you give a member of your team a tight deadline on a project they feel they haveneither the skills nor ability to do well, they may begin to feel undue pressure which could result in work related stress.
Stress can also result from having too few demands, as people will become bored, feel undervalued and lack recognition. If they feel they have little or no say over the work they do or how they do it, this may cause them stress.
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Stress affects people in different ways and what one person finds stressful can be normal to another. With each new situation a person will decide what the challenge is and whether they have the resources to cope. If they decide they don't have the resources, they will begin to feel stressed. How they appraise the situation will depend on various factors, including:
• their backgroundand culture;
• their skills and experience;
• their personality;
• their personal circumstances;
• their individual characteristics;
• their health status;
• their ethnicity, gender, age or disability; and
• other demands both in and outside work.
As a manager you have a duty to ensure that work does not make your team ill. Understanding how to spot the signs of stress inyour team, and then know what to do to reduce stress, will help you achieve this.
'For me it was a new boss. I found myself crying 'cos I couldn't keep up suddenly. Stress is where you can't cope, there's too much and you don't know what to focus on any more.'
Well-designed, organised and managed work helps to maintain and promote individual healthand well-being. But where there has been insufficient attention to job design, work organisation and management the benefits and assets associated with ‘good work’ could be lost. One common result is work-related stress.
By the term work-related stress we mean the process that arises where work demands of various types and combinations exceed the person’s capacity and capability to cope. Think ofthis as ‘bad work’. It is a significant cause of illness and disease and is known to be linked with high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other indicators of organisational underperformance - including human error.
For some the way to deal with work-related stress is to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate people who experience it. For others, it is economically and morally preferableto assess and repair the failed work system or organisation. This action reduces the risk of future failure and the likelihood of future work-related ill-health. This approach focuses attention on the antecedents of work-related stress in the design and management of work – but recognises that interventions at the individual level have a part to play.
Recent statistics confirm that work-related...