A recent NEBOSH study revealed that just one in 5 people (21%) had received information or training at work about ways of avoiding stress.

Given that stress is the second most commonly reported work-related illness, I’m surprised more employers aren’t doing more about it. To be honest, I sometimes think part of the problem with “stress” is the word itself.

I wonder if employers and managers sometimes confuse “stress” with “pressure” at work? While “pressure” at work can be a good thing, “stress” never is.

Let me explain further. How often do you hear people at work say they’re feeling a bit stressed out, when what they actually mean is they’re under a bit of pressure? They’ve got a lot to fit into their day, the phone won’t stop ringing and there’s a deadline looming. Inevitably, they up their game, put in a few extra hours and everything that needs to be done, gets done.

This is not stress. People suffer from stress when the pressure they’re under becomes too much to bear and it starts to affect them mentally, physically or both.

Managers need to be able to recognise the signs of this happening – the signs of when pressure starts turning to stress.

I also believe the phrase “work-related stress” can be a bit misleading. In some ways it suggests that employers need only be concerned with situations where stress is caused by work. In truth, pressure at work can be the final straw when people are struggling with other things outside of the 9 to 5. Losing my mother when I was 46 had a huge impact on me. It’s not surprising that anxiety and depression affects one in four people at some stage of life.

Any kind of stress can lead to prolonged absence, which is why it’s in every employer’s interest to not only recognise the signs of stress, but to provide early support. Employee assistance programmes can offer assistance via telephone advice or face to face counselling, helping staff deal with all sorts of issues causing worry such as death, divorce or excessive pressure at work.

We all need to understand stress a little better, but most importantly we need to deal with it. It’s not good for anyone to bury their heads in the sand when faced with a major problem, and that applies to employers too.

About Teresa Budworth