The Irish Times view on stress at work: Under pressure

One fifth of the workforce confesses to “always” or “most of the time” experiencing stress. That’s a serious problem for the individuals and for their employers

Workplace stress is like cosmic radiation: it is always present. But when anxiety levels increase beyond a certain point they can pose a serious threat to individuals, manifesting in physical and mental health problems, heart conditions, depression and absenteeism. An EU-wide survey found that while stress levels in Ireland had more than doubled, from 8 to 17 per cent, between 2010 and 2015, they were still below the EU average. Of more pressing concern was a 2016 finding that stress levels had continued to grow, to 22 per cent.

When one-fifth of the workforce confesses to “always” or “most of the time” experiencing stress, it amounts to a serious problem for the individuals concerned and for their employers. The most worrying finding from these surveys is that, in spite of economic recovery and rapid job creation – or perhaps because of it – pressure at work has intensified. This may reflect a restructuring of companies and their business models in the aftermath of the recession.

In spite of the introduction of flexi-hours and an emphasis on work-life balance, the highest stress levels were found in companies with more than 100 employees. Casual employment and job insecurity also contributed to this growth pattern, producing such reactions as general fatigue, anxiety and sleep disturbance. Some European countries regard stress as the major cause of burn-out and absenteeism from work. In Ireland, support provided by managers and co-workers is being promoted as an effective method of reducing pressure and improving productivity

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) commissioned the Economic and Social Research Institute to conduct these surveys. Technical and professional people in the occupational sector were found to experience the highest stress levels, followed by teachers, health workers, public administrators and managers. This was in line with EU findings. Employers will have to manage these situations and support stressed-out workers as the economy develops.