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House of Commons
Dear Member of Parliament,
I am sure that you know that many people are very concerned about the increasing levels of work-related stress. Stress in the workplace is costing British industry and the economy a great deal of money.
The purpose of this letter is to remind you of some of the facts and invite you to take this matter up with the relevant Minister, and hopefully through debate and questions in the House.
An Institute of Management report indicated in 1996 that "270,000 people take time off from work every day because of work-related stress; representing a cumulative cost in terms of lost production, sick pay and NHS charges of around £7bn annually". The Institute also declared that since 1993 "there has been a marked increase in the levels of stress in the workplace. This stress adversely affects managers' morale, health and work effectiveness and relationships with their partners, as recorded by nearly 90% of managers."
In 1990 the Health & Safety Executive supplement to the Labour Force Survey found an estimated 183,000 workers believed that they had suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the preceding year, and 105,000 of them believed that their condition was made worse by work.
In 1993 the ILO World Labour Report warned, "Of all personal factors related to the cause of accidents, one common factor emerged, that of high levels of stress. A person under stress is an accident waiting to happen."
The CBI puts the total cost to the economy of mental health and stress problems at £5bn annually, equal to industry's annual losses through theft and many times the cost of industrial action.
In 1996 the 2nd European Survey of Working Conditions revealed that 28% now suffer from stress, exceeded only by backache as a workplace problem. Over 67% of EU workers have their pace of work dictated by direct demands from customers, patients passengers or other service users, and 32% have no influence on their work rhythms or methods.
Much research at recognised levels across many workplaces and occupation sectors show many similarities in the causes of work place stress. A TUC survey of Safety Representatives revealed the following main causes: -
Proportion of H&S Reps identifying problem
New management techniques 48%
Long Hours 31%
Shift work 16%
Workers in the voluntary sector and education indicated most concerns about overwork (89% and 80% respectively) and stress being the main hazards in their workplaces.
The 1995 publication from the HSE, Stress at work - a guide for employers, gives clear guidance on the major stressors. Pressures piling up on one another; people feeling trapped or having no control over the demands placed upon them, and being confused by conflicting demands can make things very difficult in the workplace. In addition, uncertainty about work or career prospects; inflexible and over-demanding work-schedules; workplace conflicts including bullying, harassment or being treated with indifference; and a lack of understanding or leadership from managers create serious problems for workers.
Monitoring of sickness absence by employers is seen as overt spying and adds to the pressures on employees who genuinely cannot face going to work because of the pressures placed upon them. Sick leave policies introduced by employers are seen by workers as 'sacking charters'.
Research in the UK and elsewhere reveals that stress can have serious medical effects of a psychological and physiological nature. Heart disease, cancers as well as depression, anxiety and occasionally suicide can be brought about by workplace stressors.
The costs to employers, employees and the economy can be considerable. If the causes were eradicated, then these costs could well be recycled back into the economy and provide a better growth rate.
In other EU nations (e.g. Sweden and The Netherlands) laws are already in place protecting workers from the obvious stressors, including workplace design, repetitive tasks, increasing worker autonomy in terms of design of working practices, as well as many other important aspects of the workplace. In some EU nations too, anti-bullying laws also prevent workplace stress being caused by employer-bullies making the lives of their employees impossible.
I hope that you will give this matter your most urgent and detailed attention, raising it in the House, with Ministers and pursuing legislation to eradicate and prevent workplace stress.
I look forward to your early reply.