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What contributes to stress at work?

The Mental Health Foundation have identified next week as Mental Health Awareness week with the theme of stress for 2018.   There is a lot of information available on the website about stress, managing stress and how to support their campaign.

The New Savoy Conference/British Psychological Society annual wellbeing survey earlier this year also looked at stress.  This year’s survey had the largest number of respondents (1678).   The findings were similar to previous years although the levels of self-reported depressed mood and feelings of failure (occurring some of the time or more frequently) were lower.  They were still over 40% which does not represent significant improvement. 

Over 57% of the respondents reported working up to an additional five unpaid hours a week.  The physical environment was also identified as an area of dissatisfaction.   Over a quarter of the respondents reported feeling bullied or harassed by service users, their families or members of the public in the past 12 months.   Participants were asked about bullying by managers and 13% reported this occurring once or twice in the past month.  These figures are comparable to the national NHS staff survey.

We also asked whether respondents felt the service in which they worked had sufficient staff to deliver a safe and effective service, 72% said No to this. A third said the service they worked in had lost senior staff.  

 Overall, it’s still a depressing picture in that many of the respondents report negative feelings and concerns about services as well as experiences of bullying. This suggests that it is not just self-care that’s important but that our working conditions are having a  negative impact on us.  There can be few working in NHS or NHS-funded services who have not experienced some level of reorganisation or uncertainty. 

So what can we do?  I recently attended a workshop on staff wellbeing and the ideas shared were not radical or sophisticated.  They largely included taking the time to listen, trying to help, consider your own impact on people.   As psychological professionals, we are often aware of this in a therapeutic context but sometimes not so much in the workplace.  In some ways, we may have a head start in doing this as it forms such a key part of our work.  Some of us probably already model this for our colleagues and managers.  It is important that we find this for ourselves too – our wellbeing matters.  

What do we do about others – when we see people not listening, not helping or being unaware or unwilling to consider their impact on others?  With some colleagues, it may be easier but with some of leaders and managers, it may not feel safe to do so.  This puts us in a tricky position where we feel stuck.  There is not a simple answer to this and circumstances and timing can vary.  Sometimes, sharing our feelings with colleagues can help in that we may feel less alone.  In other circumstances, we may be able to raise the issue in asking supportive questions that show we’ve noticed changes in behaviour.  I don’t have a simple answer to this and I’d certainly welcome suggestions and ideas.  However, what I have realised is that not sharing or communicating with others can really reinforce a sense of isolation which can add to those feelings of stress.   It’s important to listen and talk and explore how you impact on others and this can help in making changes or not. 

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