Stress At Work – common questions

What is stress?

‘Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope.’

Some stress is normal and even useful as it can help if you need to work hard or react quickly. For example, it can help you win a race or finish an important job on time. However, if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have negative effects which can result in psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, adjustment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other physical health problems.

What are the common signs of stress?

Stress can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. Common signs of stress include difficulty concentrating, sweating, sleeping problems, loss of appetite or loss of libido.

You may feel irritable, anxious or low in self-esteem. Also you may have racing thoughts, worry constantly or go over things in your head. You may notice a change in your behaviour; you may lose your temper more easily, act unreasonably or drink more. You may also experience headaches, muscle tension or pain, or dizziness.

Ultimately stress affects people differently so symptoms can differ from person to person.

What causes stress?

There are many things that may cause stress, the most common life stresses include the death of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, increase in financial obligations, chronic illness or injury including physical and emotional, moving home, getting married and traumatic events such as rape, theft and violence towards you or a loved one.

Work related stress is generally the most common, there are many causes of work related stress, some examples include working long hours, having a heavy workload, having too much or too little responsibility, having poor management, working under dangerous conditions, being bullied and/or harassed at work and generally just being unhappy in your job.

How do I recognise what is causing me stress?

Keep a diary, write down the date, time and place of a stressful episode and include details such as what you were doing, who you were with, what you started doing, what you were thinking, how you felt emotionally and how you felt physically. Rate these stressful episodes on a scale of 0-10, 10 being the most stressed and do this for 2-4 weeks. You should be able to see a pattern of what is causing you stress and work out how you operate under pressure.

What is an employer’s duty of care?

Whilst you are at work, your employer has a duty of care to you, which means that by law they should take all steps which are reasonably possible to ensure an employee’s health, safety and wellbeing. Failure to do this is a failure in this legal requirement.
Employers have statutory obligations under legislation such as:

  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • Equality Act 2010
  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997

These duties include the duty to risk assess including Stress Risk Assessments. There are also duties not to discriminate and to make reasonable adjustments for individuals with disabilities. Mental health can amount to a disability.

What can a solicitor do about Stress?

A solicitor trained and experienced in Stress will work with you sympathetically and to help you gain compensation from your employer – remember your employer has a duty of care to you, if they have failed you and you have a medical condition resulting from your stress whilst at work then you may be entitled to compensation towards any treatment, loss of earnings, loss of pension and injuries you have suffered.

Alternatively a Solicitor may be able to assist in negotiating an exit strategy including a compensation package for termination of your employment thereby removing one of the potential stressors and preventing further ill health

Can I pursue both a Workplace Stress claim and an Employment Claim?

There is a significant overlap between workplace stress claims and employment claims – in some cases you can pursue both an employment claim and a stress claim simultaneously although this can create difficulties.

If you believe that you have been subjected to discrimination then you may have to choose either to pursue a stress or an employment claim (as the employment tribunal can award damages for personal injuries in discrimination cases).

Our expert advisors can advise you which route may be better for you to pursue according to the issues in your particular case.

 For more information, help and advice, please visit our dedicated Stress At Work page.

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