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Stress and mental health

Recession and periods of economic insecurity are classic times for an increase in stress. Journalism has – and probably always will be – a job associated with work-related pressure and, while the industry is going through a period of change and, in some areas, decline, this is likely to be particularly true.

However, some people thrive on tight deadlines and busy schedules whereas some people prefer to have time to think and to work out what they need to do. Both attitudes are fine as long as the person feels in control of their work.

Lack of control and other associated issues are often the trigger for feelings of stress which, if not tackled early enough, can lead to physical and/or mental ill-health.

Dealing with stress in the workplace

If you think stress may be a problem in your workplace, you should take action to ensure that your employer takes responsibility for the well-being of its workers. The NUJ has produced a factsheet on mental health and stress that you can print out.

Stress is the biggest health and safety issues affecting workers in the media sector, yet many bosses don't treat it with the same seriousness as more tangible risks. However, employees suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety take an average of 29 days off sick a year. The annual cost to employers across the UK economy is £3.7 billion.

Identifying stress at work

Newsrooms have a reputation for being high-pressure workplaces, so stress is often dismissed as simply part of the job. However, stress and pressure are very different. While some pressure is an acceptable part of most jobs, if demands on an individual become excessive, it can begin to affect their wellbeing. Too much pressure can have major implications for people's mental and physical health.

Since stress can affect a whole organisation or just an individual, it isn't always easy to spot. However, there are some indicators that could imply that stress is a problem, for example:

  • high levels of absence because of sickness
  • high staff turnover
  • long working hours
  • workloads that are near-impossible to achieve
  • an aggressive workplace culture.

If you think that stress could be a problem, management should take steps to assess the risks.

Putting pressure on employers to act

Stress is a health and safety hazard and your employer should undertake a thorough risk assessment and act on that assessment to minimise the risks to staff.

However, many employers are unwilling to take the issue seriously so union reps may have to gather evidence that managers can't ignore.

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has developed an analytical tool to assess the levels of workplace stress. Reps can use it to survey staff workloads work and analyse the results using a special spreadsheet.

You can read detailed guidance on the HSE's stress management standards on its website.

The NUJ can help you use the HSE stress indicator tool, email campaigns@nuj.org.uk to discuss how we can help.

What if bullying is part of the problem?

Detailed guidance on how to deal with individual cases of bullying is contained in the NUJ's Stop Bullying handbook. Pages 17-19 contain specific advice for union reps.

Make a visible stand against bullying in your workplace by putting up the NUJ's Stop Bullying posters. You can also order copies of the Stop Bullying handbook for staff where you work.

To order copies of the posters and handbooks, email campaigns@nuj.org.uk.

Further information

Mind, the mental health charity, have produced a comprehensive guide to stress. The guide explains what stress is, including possible causes, and how you can learn to cope, with tips on how to relax.

The workSMART website from the TUC has a wealth of information about stress in the workplace, including guidance on how to deal with it. Read the stress pages on workSMART.

The UK Health and Safety Executive and the Irish Health and Safety Authority also have useful pages with advice on tackling stress at work.

If you need advice about how to raise this issue with your local management, speak to your NUJ official or email campaigns@nuj.org.uk to be put in touch with someone who can help.

Reporting the issues

Reporting mental health, mental illness and death by suicide - NUJ Scotland guidance.