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Who should we assume primary responsibilities for maintaining a healthy work-life balance, the employer or the employee?
Work-related stress in this current industrialised world is becoming one of the root causes that are reducing productivity and performance. The increase in workloads over the past decades has been a major factor in stress phenomenon. Stress is a serious issue which eventually leads to serious consequences in the business environment. Recent studies indicate that almost 60% of all lost-working days are related to occupational stress (Leka, Griffiths and Cox, 2003). Nowadays, more and more organisations are becoming aware of how the work-related stress should be managed carefully in order to obtain a competitive advantage over other businesses. Several factors such as reward imbalance, work pressure and unrealistic demands, ineffective workplace management, minor illness and mental health issues are the most contributed factors that has caused Britain 15.8 million working days in 2016 and 15.4 million working days in 2018 (HSE, 2018). Work-related stress directly affects the employees’ life and the causes can be minimised by the employers through several methods and implementations. In addition to that, employers hold the legal responsibilities to take care of their employees ensuring their health, safety and wellbeing (HSE, 2018).
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According to HSE, in the year 2015 and 2016, over 480,000 people in UK reported that work-related stress was making them ill and not only that, reports show that there were 1,320 cases per 100,000 workers that are found to be suffering from stress, depression and anxiety in this time period. Psychological hazards are no doubt one of the causes to work-related stress in fact there is a strong evidence showing a link between work-related stress and psychological hazards (Cox, Griffiths & Rial-Gonzalez, 2000). In addition to that, statistics are showing those who are at professional occupational level have higher rate to suffer from work-related stress, depression and anxiety comparing to other types of occupations. As described in HSE annual statistics, the rate of workers suffering from those symptoms mentioned above are 2,760 cases per 100,000 workers in nursery and midwifery occupations and 3,020 cases per 100,000 workers in teaching professions and 4,080 cases for Welfare professions. Professional occupations are almost two times higher comparing to other occupational groups such as skilled trades and Elementary occupations (HSE,2018).
There are several major causes to work-related stress such as long working hours, work overload and pressure, lack of control over work and lack of participation in decision making, poor social support, unclear management, work role and poor management style. Because of the imbalance in demand, many individuals have brought demands to their homes and social lives. “Long uncertain or unsocial hours, working away from home, taking work home, high levels of responsibility, job insecurity, and job relocation all may adversely affect family responsibilities and leisure activities” (Michie, 2002).
One thing to note is that when employees are having to worry about their childcare responsibilities, financial worries and housing problems, these may potentially affect their performance at workplace. Employees become stressed out because they cannot cope with both social life and workplace demands at the same time thus leading to a circle where there is no balance. Women are most likely to experience these types of stress because the domestic responsibilities they carry. Men working in the service sector, low skilled manual jobs, private sector or in large or very large firms and temporary contractors are at higher risk of work-life imbalance (Lunau, Bambra, Eikemo, Van der wel & Dragano, 2014).
Many employees are suffering from work-related stress although more and more employers are becoming aware of this issue. Causes such as workplace overload, demands and capability imbalance are the major issues that can be minimised by implementing a better workplace management and standards. Statistics from HSE (2018) indicates that workload has the highest contribution to work-related stress in Great Britain followed by Lack of support, violence, threat or bullying, changes at work, role of uncertainty and lack of control. Employers should be aware of the process and states of employees at the workplace to ensure workers are not being assigned tasks that are not matched with their capabilities as they become lack in ability and productivity when they are stressed. Research findings shows that employees suffer stress the most when they are not capable of performing the task because of the lack of knowledge and experience (Leka, Griffiths & Cox, 2013). This too can be clearly minimised by implementing a better workplace management. Certainly, some of the causes cannot be corrected or minimised by the employers such as when the imbalance in workplace and social life started, employee may hold the liability to maintain work-life balance. However, work-life balance can be maintained by the employee to an extent.
As described by HSE (2009) in How to Tackle Work-related Stress, there are six areas of work that need to be balanced in order to maintain healthy work environment such as Demands, Control, Support, Role, Change and Relationships. Demands as in how much works must be done by the employees, control as in how much an employee has in the way they do their work. Support is one of the key issues why employees are suffering from work-related stress. In order to make changes to make more flexible working environment, employees have to speak out when they are struggling and when they are not able to or in some cases where there is no effect even when they do, lack of support or encouragement or resources supported by the organisation become a major factor to work-related stress. Lack of job security can also be the reason why several employees are stressed. Therefore, health of workplace environment must be up to date with the standard. For example – employees must be able to cope with the demands of their jobs and they should be able to communicate to the support team for any concerns.
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Job designs also play a crucial part relating to stress at workplace. They can be designed to ensure employees’ skills and abilities are matched to the job demands. From the workplace perspective, introducing policies relating to reducing stress and initiatives which provides options for the employees for any aftereffects from work-related stress can be effective. For example – there are existing employee assistance programmes options such as on-site childcare, flexible working arrangement or compressed hours and on-site fitness facilities.
All employers have legal responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulation (Northern Ireland) 2000 to ensure stress at workplace is kept minimum. Board members, directors and CEOs are the main group to steer to reduce work-related stress (HSENI, 2019). Directors can monitor the rate of absenteeism, staff turnover rate, performance and conflict between staff and make sure these issues are settled. Depending on the structure of the organisation, HR and health and safety managers can enforce best practises relating to work-related stress, make sure employees are getting support from workplace. Human resources managers and Health and Safety managers should be able to work together to tackle work-related stress for example – health and safety managers should be able to support line managers in preventing and managing individuals with work-related stress and to identify new policies that may help reduce work-related stress. Furthermore, employees should inform their managers if there are any concerns that are limiting their performance on workplace such as any medical condition that happens to be long term and affecting their ability. Trade union representatives are the first call for staff that are in need of help as they will be able to work with the organisation to develop new policies to reduce stress, make solutions, encourage employees to inform their managers about the problem and tackle the issue.
In conclusion, work-related stress, depression and anxiety is a significant ill health condition in Great Britain. In 2017 and 2018 alone, these issues have caused Britain more than 50% of the working days. It would be argued that in some cases, employees carry the responsibility to maintain work-life balance. However, major issues such as workplace overloads can be overwhelming and impossible to be corrected by the employees unless the responsible individuals in the workplace make changes about it. Furthermore, by implementing such polices as mentioned above, work-related stress can be minimised, and output will be maximised.
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