A study, led by the University of Cambridge, looked at which countries in the EU were best when it comes to ‘promoting healthy lifestyles at work’. Contributor Mike Edwards, Head of People – Love Energy Savings.
Researchers analysed national policies governing things like healthy eating in the workplace, the promotion of physical activity and methods to tackle workplace stress. Worryingly, just 29 percent of ‘EU establishments’ – such as regulatory bodies – had guidelines or policies in place to help promote workplace health.
But the UK topped the charts for both ‘training employees in preventing work-related stress’ and ‘having an action plan to prevent work-related stress’, with 60 percent of our policies making stress a priority. The other countries praised for their stress-busting measures were Italy, Spain, Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden, Romania and Denmark.
But others fared worst – with France, Czech Republic, Estonia, Croatia Greece and Luxembourg sitting at the bottom of the pile.
The study’s lead author Sanne Verra, of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, said: “Despite the extremely high prevalence of psychosocial health issues, with one in four workers reporting high stress levels for most or all of their working hours, data analysis revealed that it is uncommon for establishments to assess and monitor psychosocial risks in addition to physical health risks.
“New and emerging risks have made current methods of risk assessment outdated. Yet, so far, only a few member states have addressed work-related stress factors as evaluation topics in the risk assessment.
“Seeing how mental health problems are considered the most dominant health problem for the working age population and how work-related stress specifically was identified as a main reason for absence from work, failure to address these issues may result in substantial loss.
“These losses apply to both individual as well as business success.”
Policies in the UK that relate to the promotion of health at work include Government legislation like the Health and Safety at Work Act, as well as guidelines from regulatory body the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). But while the UK leads the way, Verra says other nations need to do much more to catch up.
She adds: “Merely a small portion of workplaces takes psychosocial risks into account, and even less investment is made to promote the health of workers. These gaps in practice relate back to a policy gap, and to remain up to date on current risk patterns, the EU and its member states should aim to include these aspects in their occupational health and safety policy.”
The news has been welcomed by Phil Foster, managing director of Love Energy Savings:
“This study is to be welcomed – and it’s encouraging to see the UK leading the way when it comes to workplace stress-related policies. However, whether those policies and guidelines actually translate into genuine, real-world efforts to combat stress on the shop floor is another thing entirely.
“And that’s down to individual firms and the people running them. I’d encourage companies, both large and small, to wake-up to the benefits of addressing these problems. Because, at the end of the day, reducing stress in the workplace will also have a positive effect on a company’s profits, in the form of fewer absences, increased workrates and people taking pride in the job they do.”
Mike Edwards, Head of People at Love Energy Savings and who provides a ‘Love Shack’ canteen stocked with arcade machines, Sony Playstations and pool tables, says combating stress is all about support. He adds; “It might sound slightly odd that we’re allowing employees to handle their personal financial matters in company time, through one-to-one advice sessions, but for us it’s a no-brainer.
“We rely on our fantastic workforce to drive that growth. And the only way for us to maintain momentum is to give them all the support we can, whether that’s professionally or personally.”
Other studies, however, don’t paint such a glowing picture of work-related stress in the UK.
According to a recent survey by industry body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), found more than a third of UK businesses (37 percent) have seen an increase in stress-related absence over the last year – with heavy workloads and poor management style to blame.
The CIPD also suggested ‘stress is a growing problem in UK workplaces’, with ‘heavy workloads’ the main cause of stress related absences. Meanwhile only 50 percent of managers have undergone training to support their staff to better manage stress, the survey found.
Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “Managers should be helping to alleviate stress among their staff, not contributing to it. But too many managers are being set up to fail because they haven’t received adequate training, despite them often being the first person employees will turn to when they have a problem.”