Employers have been urged to be alert for the signs of work-related stress in their organisations and to use a new online tool to help them measure and manage it.
The Health and Safety Authority has launched the website and a new information campaign aimed at raising awareness of the damaging effects of work related stress.
The agency defines work-related stress as stress which is caused or made worse by work.
It refers to situations where employees perceive their work in such a way that they have serious and ongoing difficulty coping with day-to-day demands.
A 2016 study by the ESRI found stress, anxiety and depression were the second highest causes of work-related illness in Ireland. They are also associated with the longest absences from work.
A European-wide survey on working conditions conducted by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work found 22 per cent of workers in Ireland experienced stress at work “always” or “most of the time”. The proportion that always experienced stress was the third highest in the EU15 and 10th highest among the 34 countries surveyed.
To assist employers to manage this, the Health and Safety Authority, in conjunction with the State Claims Agency, has developed the "Work Positive" online tool.
This helps employers to implement a structured and collaborative approach to managing work-related stress.
“With employees at the heart of the process, the free tool provides clear guidance for employers to design and implement focused action plans and interventions,” the HSA said.
Patricia Murray, organisational psychologist with the HSA, said employees behave differently to their "normal" behaviour when under high levels of stress.
“They can be angrier, more confrontational, show less time for others and impose an urgency on situations which is unrealistic and tense for those around them. Or they can withdraw and become evasive or prone to upset and over time easily overcome by even minor challenges.”
Ms Murray said this type of behaviour was “clearly unproductive for the individual and difficult for their colleagues to deal with, but it’s also bad for business”.
“Employers need to be alert for the signs of work-related stress in their organisations. All employers have a duty of care to provide a safe and healthy workplace, and this duty extends to mental as well as physical safety and health,” she said.
“The benefits of doing so not only extend to employees themselves but also to the business in the form of reduced absenteeism and increased employee engagement, performance and productivity.”
Potentially very damaging
Ms Murray said high levels of work-related stress were potentially very damaging for anyone, no matter what their job status or experience.
"It's in everyone's interest to address it together and the WorkPositive.ie tool is available to all employers free of charge to lead the way and start managing work-related stress now."
The new website will help employers to comply with health and safety legislation at national and EU level.
It will also help them assess workplace stressors, employee psychological wellbeing and critical incident exposure in the workplace.
The risk of stress, anxiety and depression-related illnesses is highest for workers in the education sector, followed by those in health, public administration, transport and other services, which includes finance, information and communications.
The new campaign includes a radio advertisement, outdoor ads and a digital/social media element running over the next two weeks.
Further information is available at hsa.ie or workpositive.ie