Stress and wellbeing

Employers have a legal duty to assess the risks of work-related stress and take measures to control these risks, so everyone in a workplace should understand their role in reducing the risks and impact of stress. The industries that report the highest levels of work-related stress, depression or anxiety are health and social work, education, and public administration and defence.

The World Health Organisation defines stress as ‘the reaction people may have when presented with demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope’. Therefore, stress arises when there is a mismatch between what is expected of people and what they are capable of doing, which results in them not being able to cope.

The International Stress Management Association’s definition of stress goes a step further, making clear that stress is always a negative reaction. It describes stress as ‘an umbrella term referring to the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed upon them, where those pressures are subjectively felt to have importance, and to exceed the person’s current perceived resources and coping ability. Prolonged exposure to this reaction may result in unhealthy physical, emotional, mental and behavioural symptoms.’

If the work an employee does isn’t well planned and managed it could ultimately affect their wellbeing and lead to work-related stress. There is no law that specifically deals with work-related stress, but employers, managers and employees all have a duty to ensure they are doing everything they reasonably can to ensure the risks of work-related stress are properly managed. Employers owe a legal duty of care to their employees, and injury to mental health is treated in the same way as injury to physical health.