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Stress at Work

The most common causes of workplace stress, according to the CIPD, appear to be workload and management issues. Stress at work can lead to all sorts of problems, short-term and long-term absence, anxiety and depression. Stress is defined by the HSE as the ‘adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed on them’. These issues have come to the forefront in the media this week, after adamning report of working conditions at Amazon distribution centres made the New York Times. GMB suggest that the company requires its workers to be above average ‘robots’ in what is monotonous and demanding work. Other reports havesuggested that workers engaged in warehouse ‘picking’ duties are monitored with GPS devices to determine periods of inactivity. As well as emotional and stress related injury, workers are said to suffer from musculoskeletal problems from the hard physical work they endure. The company’s founder disputes the claims and haseven invited workers to email him directly if they encounter problems. Whether these reports are true or apocryphal, they do paint a pictureof humans reduced tounits of production,a product of the 21st century workplace which does not appear to have moved on muchsince Charles Dickens’ day. Legal authority tells us that employers should not be liable for occupational stress unless they know, or reasonably ought to have known, that a particular employee is vulnerable to workplace pressure. To this extent, a stress at work claim is hard to establish but of course the unseen effects of stress can play havoc with a company’s bottom line. Signs of stress can manifest themselves in poor work performance, aggressive behaviour, withdrawal and regression. This can cost the employer dear. Employers who do not take the right steps to monitor and manage stress in the workplace are only storing up problems for the future, with high churn of staff, lateness, absenteeism and the like. We advise employers to take steps to reduce the effects of stress. These include stress audits, return to work interviews, training for workers and management and support through on-line counselling programmes. An effective anti-stress policy is a good starting point but ultimately, an employer’s commitment to a stress-free work environment should be reflected in practice.