The Health and Safety Executive defines work-related stress as the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.
Work-related stress is widespread and is not confined to particular sectors, jobs or industries.
It is a significant cause of illness and is known to have a link to high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other issues, such as human error that can lead to accidents. Therefore, it is in the best interest of employers to take appropriate measures to assess and manage work-related stress and its contributing factors, which are called psychosocial hazards. This should be part of health and safety risk assessments, which each employer is legally required to carry out.
Work-related stress and psychosocial hazards can be measured in a number of ways and a large number of tools are available to help employers do so. Self-reported questionnaires containing questions about the presence of risk factors in the work environment are widely used because they are inexpensive and easy to analyse.
Other assessments are based on observational approaches, including archival data such as sickness leave, performance measures and accidents, and biological measures.
Examples of questionnaires that measure symptoms of work-related stress include the General health questionnaire, the Occupational stress indicator and the General wellbeing questionnaire. These should be used together with instruments assessing employee exposure to psychosocial hazards, such as temporal aspects of employment and the work itself, demands, aspects of work content, supervision and interpersonal relationships.
Employers should also consider the HSE Management Standards for work-related stress indicator tool, the Job content questionnaire, the Effort reward imbalance questionnaire and the Copenhagen psychosocial questionnaire.
There are also sectoral tools available, such as the EEF Work Organisation Assessment Questionnaire.
Doctor Stavroula Leka is associate professor in occupational health psychology and Aditya Jain is assistant professor in HR management at the University of Nottingham