Work related stress in healthcare

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Stress may be defined as the physical and emotional response to excessive levels of mental or emotional pressure, which may arise from issues in both the working and personal life. Stress may cause emotional symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability or low self-esteem, or even manifest as physical symptoms including insomnia, headaches, loss of appetite and difficulties concentrating. Individuals experiencing high levels of stress may experience difficulty in controlling emotions such as anger, and may be more likely to experience illness or consume increased quantities of alcohol (NHS Choices, 2015).

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In the UK a survey undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has estimated that in the year 2013-2014, 487,000 of work related illnesses (39%) could be attributed to work-related stress, anxiety or depression (HSE, 2014). Additionally the survey found that as many as 11.3 million working days were lost in the year 2013-2014 as the direct result of work-related stress (HSE, 2014). Studies have shown that healthcare professionals, particularly nurses and paramedics, are at an increased risk of work-related stress compared with other professionals (Sharma et al., 2014). This is likely to be due to the innate long hours and high pressure of maintaining quality care standards in the job, as well as pressures caused by staff shortages, high levels of patient demand, a lack of adequate managerial support as well as the risk of aggression or violence towards nurses from patients, relatives or even other staff (Royal College of Nursing (RCN), 2009). Indeed, a 2014 survey of nursing staff by the RCN showed that up to 71% of staff surveyed worked up to 4 hours more than their contracted hours a week, 80% felt that work-related stress lowered morale, and that 72% reported that understaffing occurred frequently in their workplace. As a result of these issues, 66% of respondents in the survey considered leaving the NHS or the nursing profession altogether (RCN, 2014b). A separate report by the RCN suggested that over 30% of absence due to illness was due to stress, which was estimated to cost the NHS up to £400 million every year (RCN, 2014a). In addition to the physical and emotional symptoms of stress previously discussed, studies in this area have shown that nurses experiencing high levels of work-related stress were more likely to be obese and have low levels of physical exercise, factors which increased the likelihood of non-communicable diseases and co-morbidities such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes (Phiri et al., 2014).

Stress and staff absence

Chronic stress has been linked to “burnout”(Khamisa et al., 2015; Dalmolin et al., 2014), or a state of emotional exhaustion under extreme stress related to reduced professional fulfilment (Dalmolin et al., 2014) and “compassion fatigue”, where staff have experienced so many upsetting situations that they find it difficult to continue empathising with their patients (Wilkinson,

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