Stress is now recognised as a significant workplace hazard. Recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that around 500,000 people a year claim illness from work-related stress. This shows that stress is a major issue that employers need to address. Factors that have the potential to cause stress exist in all dental environments. If these factors are not identified and managed, they will have a serious effect on a person’s physical and psychological health and well-being. This in turn will be detrimental to the efficiency and operation of the business. Organisations should take a proactive approach to preventing stress and demonstrate a duty of care to the employees.
- Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974:
Employers have a general duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably possible, the health, safety and welfare of all employees. The general duty covers the physical and psychological well-being of employees and the individual needs of each employee should be considered.
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999:
Employers [are] to make suitable and sufficient assessments of risks to health and safety of employees to identify the measures needed to remove the risks or reduce to an acceptable level. This includes ensuring employees have the physical and psychological capabilities to carry out tasks.
- Working Time Regulations 1998 (as amended):
Excessive working hours are a contributory factor to work related stress. Employers must limit the amount of hours an employee works to 48 hours a week averaged over a 17 week period. In work, daily and weekly rest breaks must be provided and employers will need to keep a record if employees decide to opt out of the Regulations.
A range of definitions of stress exist. This is mainly due to different opinions, individual responses to stress, people’s experiences and, for some, the reluctance to identify that stress is a problem. Some of the more common definitions are as follows:
- ‘Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilise’ (Richard S. Lazarus).
- ‘A force acting on or within someone and acting to distort it’ (Oxford dictionary).
- ‘Interference that disturbs a person’s healthy mental and physical well-being’ (D&K Essential Managers Guide).
- ‘An adverse reaction that people have to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed upon them’ (Health and Safety Executive).
The above shows that there is no single definition of stress and that stress does not indicate personal faults or weaknesses. Stress is about negative experiences that need to be managed. It should be recognised that most of us work under a certain amount of pressure, but it is when the pressure becomes unreasonable and destructive that there is a problem.
Work-related stress does not just affect the health and well-being of an individual. It has a knock-on effect on their families and friends and ultimately will have an impact on the business. These effects may be both short and long term. If stress is identified early enough, long-term effects could be greatly reduced. It must also be recognised that individuals suffering from stress may be at a greater risk of having an accident.
Effects on an Individual
Stress is personal to an individual. Everyone copes with situations and problems differently and the individual’s genetic make-up also affects the way he/she handles life. However, employers need to have an understanding of the more general effects of stress such as the following:
- Physical health
- High blood pressure and raised metabolic rate
- Mental health
- Anxiety attacks, mood swings and behavioural changes
- Rational thinking is diminished, lose sight of aims and goals
Effects on Families and Friends
- The individual may be unable to leave work-related problems at work. Family issues that are normally easily resolved escalate. This may lead to a change in family circumstances and could result in loss of income, further adding to the stress.
- The individual may withdraw from normal social activities and destroy social relationships.
Effects on the Business
- Quality of service – the well-being of an individual can affect the way he/she deals with customers/patients. If the quality of service is reduced, there may be an increase in complaints and customers/patients could go elsewhere.
- Reputation – dissatisfied customers/patients may tell others of the poor service they received.
- Morale of staff – motivation levels will be low and disputes could happen between colleagues, resulting in mistrust.
- Staff retention – people may be absent because of sickness and employees could leave. Recruitment and selection to replace staff is a cost to the business.
The approach to stress throughout this chapter is for employers to be proactive so that they can identify how stress may be caused, with the aim being prevention. In order to do this effectively, employers need to be able to recognise the signs and symptoms individuals may be experiencing and encourage them to report to occupational health, human resources or their managers so that it can be discussed and addressed immediately. Signs and symptoms of stress are grouped as follows:
- Chest pain and palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Aches and pains
- Digestive disorders
- Sleep problems/tiredness
- Slouched posture
- Profuse sweating
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dishevelled clothing
- Mood swings
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling depressed
- Loss of sense of humour
- Becoming more cynical
- Loss of enthusiasm
- Poor concentration
- Decrease in confidence and self-esteem
- Being tearful
- Drop in work performance
- Excessive drinking and smoking
- Drug abuse
- Overeating/loss of appetite
- Change in sleep patterns
- Poor time management
- Obsessive or erratic behaviour
- Poor judgement
- Overreacting to situations
- Indecisiveness and forgetfulness
Psychological (Negative Thoughts)
- ‘I am a failure’.
- ‘I should />