Older workers burdened by workplace stress

Posted on: 07 May 2015 by 50connect editorial

Workplace stress and anxiety are growing problems for the UK's growing number of older workers. Dr Lynda Shaw challenges business leaders to address the issue.

Anxiety in the workplace

There are approximately nine million people over the age of 50* in some form of employment in the UK and with the abolition of the default retirement age and increased life expectancy that figure will continue to rise. 

During National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week (4 to 10 May), cognitive neuroscientist and chartered psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw is urging the business community to get a better understanding of stress and anxiety in the workplace.

“This generation of workers is facing more stress than any other because of the constant bombardment of information, over multi-tasking and the need to be available 24 hours a day," claims Dr Shaw. "We are more stressed than we have ever been, more unable to wind down and in my view more anxious than ever before.”

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2011/12**, 428,000 people in the UK reported work-related stress at a level they believed was making them ill - 40% of all work-related illness.

Generically psychological problems, including stress, anxiety and depression, are behind one in five visits to a GP and stress is known to lead to unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, eating and drinking too much, which might increase the risk of heart disease. Stress in the workplace lowers concentration, self esteem and productivity and drastically increases staff turnover.

Shaw continues: “Research has shown that positive support in the workplace stimulates brain chemicals, such as neuropeptide oxytocin. Oxytocin is associated with social bonding and trust. It also moderates the impact of the stress hormone cortisol, which means that belonging to a good work community can not only alleviate stress, but can also help depression and anxiety disorders. On the other hand chronic social isolation and stress have been shown to disrupt the normal function of the hippocampus in the brain which is critical for certain types of memory and emotional behaviours.

“Whilst we all have pressures on us and we all have some stress in our lives, there is a difference between normal levels of pressure and work debilitating stress and anxiety. The responsibility to deal with it lies with both the employer and employee.”

Spotting the problem signs, taking practical steps to minimise stress, having open lines of communication, creating loyalty and trust, providing support, building relationships, ridding the workplace of bullying, having clear set roles, creating more positive environments to work in, managing change well and balancing demands put on employees are key factors to be put in place by employers.  

“Saying no if we feel uncomfortable doing something, talking, listening and cooperating and building relationships are all key things that employees need to be sure they are also fulfilling,” according to Dr Shaw.

* Fuller Working Lives

** hse.gov.uk/stress/furtheradvice/wrs.htm,

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