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Workplace Stress: the legal essentials Part 4

TERMINOLOGY

Definition of stress

The widest definition of stress is anything which makes a person tense, angry, frustrated or angry. This clearly includes workplace pressures. Stress is said to result from a state of imbalance between the demands experienced by individuals and their capacity to adjust to those demands. Where demands are beyond a person’s capacities, then a state of stress is likely to result.

Recognised stressors

Work-related stressors which are generally accepted as triggering stress reactions include:

  • Excessive working hours
  • Night shift working
  • Boredom
  • Structural changes
  • Pressure of time
  • Contradictory instructions and confusion being passed down a chain of authority
  • Conflict with colleagues
  • Competition
  • Shock caused by discrimination, harassment or bullying
  • Increased challenges
  • Introduction of information technology
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Disciplinary proceedings
  • Suspension
  • Dismissal
  • Resignation
  • Retirement
  • Uncertainty
  • Lack of support
  • Physical characteristics of the workplace including noise, inadequate lighting, inadequate space and poor ergonomics
  • A culture in the workplace which refuses to recognise stress
  • Travel to work: commuting.

Does stress exist?

There is a body of medical opinion which regards the word “stress” as having little medical meaning. It has been stated that the term is so wide, and covers so many conditions, that it has little useful diagnostic function. If this is so, then lawyers may ask why client after client has been diagnosed by their doctor as suffering from “work-related stress”.  A similar issue has arisen in relation to repetitive strain injury (RSI), where medical opinion has tended to conclude that the phrase is of little use. It is possible that, if the number of claims for stress compensation continues to rise, then the law of stress may develop in the same complex and difficult way as that of RSI.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ conference was told by a psychiatrist that:

  • Experts were cashing in on the trauma industry by encouraging people to seek compensation for ordinary events.
  • Psychiatrists, lawyers and claimants were creating a compensation culture.
  • Psychiatrists were increasingly diagnosing PTSD for everyday experiences.
  • PTSD was being wrongly diagnosed after verbal or sexual harassment and accidents instead of being applied to major events such as war.

It is worth pointing out that legal advisers acting for employees who have medical evidence that they have suffered injury, whether physical or mental, in the workplace, have a professional duty to advise that legal proceedings may be appropriate.

Effects of stress

  • Feelings of being constantly under pressure
  • Tension and inability to relax
  • Mental exhaustion
  • Constant fear
  • Irritability
  • Feeling of conflict
  • Aggression
  • Frustration
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Restlessness
  • Tearfulness
  • Feeling suspicious and/or miserable
  • Indecisiveness
  • Impulse to run away
  • Fear of imminent fainting, collapse or death
  • Fear of failure or embarrassment
  • Lack of ability to feel enjoyment or pleasure.   

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