ACAS Stress and Anxiety at Work Survey Report 2019:
ACAS – What They Do
ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service is a Crown, non-departmental public body of the government of the United Kingdom. Its purpose is to improve organisations and working life through the promotion and facilitation of strong industrial relations practice. ‘ACAS Workplace Policy’ helps inform and influence the debate on a range of critical employment, industrial and economic issues. ACAS has important relationships with a range of key stakeholders throughout government and across industry and they aim to help shape new policy. They offer balanced analysis of topical issues at work, covering everything which impacts on working lives, including mental health.
This short 12 page report is written by Adrian Wakeling and reports on the results of a new survey on workplace stress and anxiety. The views expressed in this ACAS Workplace Report/Policy Paper are those of the author and not the ACAS Council.
In October 2017, the government published its review of mental health and employers, ‘Thriving at work’ produced by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer (MIND CEO) which set out what they described as a “wholly realistic” vision that by 2027, “employees in all types of employment should have “good work”, which contributes positively to their mental health, our society and our economy”. Achieving this vision of mental health at work, they believe, is based upon having the right tools, raising awareness and building confidence.
In September 2018, ACAS published a ‘Framework for Positive Mental Health at Work’ which reflects both the “core” and “enhanced mental health standards” set out in the Stevenson/Farmer review. This includes the importance of “good working conditions”, “effective people management”, and “open conversations about mental health”. It is ACAS’s experience that delivering complex and cultural changes requires an approach built on the engagement of all workplace players. The ACAS framework reflects this with its emphasis on making mental health a shared responsibility, involving employers, managers and individuals.
Against this backdrop of a high-level vision for mental health, ACAS commissioned a YouGov poll to find out more about individuals’ current experience of mental wellbeing at work, specifically what are the causes and reactions to stress and anxiety in the workplace.
Prevalence, causes and solutions
The ACAS survey found that two-thirds (66%) of employees have felt stressed and/or anxious about work in the last 12 months. This reflects findings of several other recent surveys, such as those carried out by BITC, CIPD and ‘Simplyhealth’ which states that 37% of organisations have seen an increase in stress-related absence, and nearly three-fifths an increase in the number of mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
The ACAS report found that feeling stressed and/or anxious about work is more common in younger employees (76% under the age of 35) than older workers (54% aged 55 and over),
and at a time when the UK’s culture of long working hours seems to be dominating the headlines, the causes of stress identified in the ACAS survey are very familiar, with workload (60%), the way people are managed (42%) and balancing work and home life (35%) the chief culprits.
- Two-thirds of employees (66%) have felt stressed and/or anxious about work in the last 12 months, with particular variation by age – 76% for those under the age of 35, compared to 54% for those aged 55 and over.
- Less than 1-in-10 (8%) say their organisation is ‘very good’ at preventing employees from feeling stressed and/or anxious about work.
- The most commonly cited cause of stress and/or anxiety for employees is their workload (60%), followed by the way they are managed (42%) and balancing home and work life (35%).
- Employees who feel stressed tend to take time out to manage it, such as having a cup of tea or going for a walk (41%). More than a quarter (28%) don’t do anything, and the same proportion use annual leave, with far fewer (15%) opting to take sick leave.
- A third (33%) of employees think that ‘a reduced workload’ would help with feeling less stressed and/or anxious, followed by ‘better flexible working opportunities’ (26%) and ‘more clarity around what is required from me for my job role’ (23%).
- Less than half (43%) of employees would talk to their manager in the event of being stressed and/or anxious at work, and more than one-in-five (22%) would not talk to anyone at work.
- A large majority (72%) of employees think that it is a manager’s role to recognise and address stress and anxiety in the workplace; 60% said the same of an individual themselves; 31% think their colleagues; and 28% said HR.
*A copy of the report is attached.
ACAS Mental Health Framework
The ACAS mental health framework has been designed to support and enable employers, employees and line managers to create a thriving, healthy and productive workplace. The ‘Framework for Positive Mental Health at Work’ was published in September 2018. This, in their words, reflects both the “core” and “enhanced mental health standards” set out in the Stevenson/Farmer review. This includes the importance of “good working conditions”, “effective people management”, and “open conversations about mental health”. It is ACAS’s experience that delivering complex and cultural changes requires an approach built on the engagement of all workplace players. The ACAS framework aims to reflect this with its emphasis on making mental health a shared responsibility, involving employers, managers and individuals.
*A copy of the Framework is attached.
ACAS Guidance Links
- Mental health in the workplace
- Promoting positive mental health in the workplace
- Managing anxiety in the workplace
- Dealing with stress in the workplace
- Free e-learning on mental health awareness for employers
[Note: The Stevenson/Farmer ‘Thriving At Work Report’ is published in LTB 107/18 and the BITC Mental Health at Work Survey Report is published in LTB 412/18.
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