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Impact of work-related stress often overlooked

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The latest APM research paper summary released today, 'Occupational stress and job demand, control and support factors among construction project consultants', highlights the effect of stress on project consultants, investigating the relationship between job demands, job control, workplace support factors and occupational stress. This paper is provides a sneak preview of the Association for Project Management (APM) Research Summary Series which will provide practitioner-friendly summaries drawn from published articles in the International Journal of Project Management (IJPM), once officially launched on the 14th November 2017. 

Marking the 19th International Stress Awareness Day on 1st November, the paper highlights research from the construction industry, which is well-known for work-related stress. The causes are due to the project-driven nature of the industry and the work pressure, including long working hours. The conclusion is that occupational stress is getting worse.

Working long hours is strongly associated with high stress, as is imbalance between work and life/family commitments, and the need to prove oneself. This mirrors the findings of similar research. The extent of support received from line managers in difficult situations may moderate stress levels, quoting research by Dr Peter Edwards that first appeared in an earlier edition of International Journal of Project Management (IJPM), which is published jointly with APM.

Sadly the paper’s findings are echoed in new figures released by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA), which shows that, although 94 per cent of people experience work-related stress, only 32 per cent feel they can speak to their line manager or HR department about it.

The survey also indicates that work-related issues contribute more to people’s stress levels than difficulties regarding relationships, health and finances combined.

Carole Spiers, chair of ISMA UK, says that work-related stress and related mental health issues need to be addressed imminently: “The importance of stress and mental health issues is now finally moving up the national agenda. While their support is very much welcomed, the terrible impact of work-related stress continues to be largely overlooked. Stress is one of the main factors shown to trigger the onset of mental health disorders and contributes to their severity. She continues, "Our theme for this year’s International Stress Awareness Day is ‘Speak Up and Speak Out About Stress’, and we are asking everyone to join us and help combat the effects of stress and mental health issues in the workplace”.

What is stress? A definition by the Confederation of British Industry explains it as ‘that which arises when the pressure placed upon an individual exceeds the capacity of that individual to cope’.

ISMA explains that stress manifests itself as a physical, psychological or social dysfunction resulting in individuals feeling unable to bridge the gap with the requirements or expectations placed upon them.

So why should employers be made aware of stress in the worklplace? ISMA has published a brochure with facts about stress which reveal the following:

The latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) show:

  • The total number of cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16 was 488,000 cases, a prevalence rate of 1,510 per 100,000 workers.
  • The number of new cases was 224,000, an incidence rate of 690 per 100,000 workers. The estimated number and rate have remained broadly flat for more than a decade.
  • The total number of working days lost due to this condition in 2015/16 was 11.7 million days. This equated to an average of 23.9 days lost per case. Working days lost per worker showed a generally downward trend up to around 2009/10; since then the rate has been broadly flat.
  • In 2015/16 stress accounted for 37 per cent of all work related ill health cases and 45 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health.
  • Stress is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education; health and social care; and public administration and defence.
  • By occupation, jobs that are common across public service industries (such as healthcare workers; teaching professionals; business, media and public service professionals) show higher levels of stress as compared to all jobs.
  • The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work related stress, depression or anxiety (LFS) were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support

Download the research summary paper


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