As human beings, we are all individuals and we all have pressures put upon us; we all have our own mechanisms for coping with those pressures but when those mechanisms are exceeded, we are stressed. There is no such thing as good stress.
It is important to distinguish the difference between pressure and stress. You may well need pressure but cross the line into stress and you risk suffering from mental ill-health.
The British Standards Institute (PAS 1010) defines stress as ‘a physical, psychological or social dysfunction resulting in individuals feeling unable to bridge the gap of the requirements or expectations placed upon them’. This clearly isn’t good for the human body.
Work-related stress, depression or anxiety affected 526,000 workers in 2016-17, according to the HSE. It resulted in 12.5 million lost working days, equating to an average of 23.8 days lost per case. According to a 2016 HSE Labour Force Survey, stress costs UK industry an estimated £5.2 billion per year.
Unsurprisingly the impact of these numbers is huge for employers and employees alike, as productivity plummets and discordant dynamics set in.
The triggers can be job specific. For example, offshore workers face a unique collection of challenges that, without good management, can have dire consequences.
These workers on average tend to spend a number of weeks away from home at any one time, doing demanding shift work in an often harsh environment. When they’re not working, they remain confined to the rig where privacy is lacking and full-on escapism from the daily grind is hard to come by.
And let’s not forget the commute for which complex training is vital. Potentially perilous because of extreme weather conditions and uncomfortable thanks to multi-layered survival gear, the commute is a far cry from even the most over-crowded tube train in a major city – even if staff only do it a few times a year.
Smaller workforces and reduced manpower mean that workload and demands are high, while the downturn in the oil industry has also stymied career prospects and created job uncertainty. This, in turn, reduces what recompense there might be for individuals feeling powerless to deal with issues or incidents at home.
There are clear consequences of failure to tackle mental health issues in the workplace. Commercial impacts include poorer performance, reduced loyalty and morale, and increased hostility, alongside recruitment issues, the encroachment of a long hours work culture, and presenteeism.
Persistent emotional stress can weaken the immune system and cause high blood pressure, fatigue, depression, anxiety and even heart disease.
To tackle mental health issues, not only offshore but also onshore, employers must have various tools in their occupational health armoury, such as staff workshops on topics covering stress, time, fatigue or bereavement management, managing pressure, resilience and assertion, alongside broader support services. These are essential to helping employees understand how to build resilience to manage change.
Training is key to empowering staff with the technical skills necessary to do their job effectively and the coping mechanisms to deal with any emotional turbulence along the way.
Support facilities such as Employee Assistance Programmes, comprehensive occupational health provision and effective human resources are essential to ensuring workforce mental health is managed and cared for.
Ultimately, this won’t just support the individual, but it will also protect the interests of businesses, too.