Mediation or medication? Treating the cause and not the symptom of workplace stress

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Mediation or medication? Treating the cause and not the symptom of workplace stress

In the Daily Mail a few weeks ago Darren Behar wrote an article ‘The stress ‘epidemic’ at work.’ In it he highlighted the increasing pressure UK public and private sector staff are under to deliver higher productivity. The article supports the 2014 ACAS report by Keith Sisson, ‘The UK Productivity Puzzle-is employment relations missing the piece?’, that UK workers are under increasing levels of stress due to having the longest working hours in Europe, combined with the threat of mass-redundancies as a prominent factor in the increasing rise of workplace sickness and absence.

Workplace stress and anxiety conditions now rate higher than backache as the leading reason for absences from work, whilst the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development Simply Health Absence Management survey reports that “Stress is, for the first time, the most common cause of long-term sickness absence for both manual and non-manual employees.”

So if stress is so prevalent in the modern workplace, what are organisations doing about it?

The latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey are telling:

  • The number of new cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/14 was 244,000
  • The total number of working days lost due to stress, depression or anxiety was 11.3 million in 2013/14, an average of 23 days per case of stress, depression or anxiety

In short, organisations aren’t doing enough.

So let’s take a closer look at this ever increasing epidemic

Many of us think of workplace stress in relation to specific job requirements, demands or tasks, but workplace stress can also be linked to employees dealing with ongoing conflict as part of their daily work life. When this occurs, it can impact on a person’s psychological, physical and emotional well-being and influence their ability to perform their job to the best of their ability.

Whilst it is not always possible to determine the root cause of a conflict, often management and organisations only become involved once they observe or experience the consequences or increasingly destructive attitudes and behaviours of a dispute; such as poor communication/bad language, bullying, harassment, discrimination or escalating tensions.

When managers or supervisors try to address relationship problems like these, it is often much easier to reach for the antibiotic of choice; the ‘formal workplace investigation’!

The problem with this ‘pill’ is that it will not address the underlying issues of the conflict. There is no relationship ‘recovery’ and is more likely to exacerbate the symptoms by the creation of a winner and loser in the dispute. Whilst you may see signs of improvement, because the underlying injury is still there, the party is still sick and old wounds return with a vengeance.


There are other signs and symptoms that stress or conflict could be at the root of organisational distress.

If for example an employee has high absenteeism, the ‘Bradford Factor’ is triggered and they are called in for a disciplinary meeting. If an employee is signed off on long-term sick leave they are sent to occupational health. And of course, if they are not performing and not hitting targets, it’s the dreaded PIP. From each policy or procedure, they get the relevant medicine for each problem, with no one considering how all these symptoms may be related, or how addressing the underlying causes of these symptoms could treat everything at once.

The challenge for organisations is to find a ‘doctor’ that can easily identify the symptoms, seek early intervention and provide a sustainable approach to recovery/resolving it.

So if we could potentially solve multiple complaints by paying closer attention to the stress, why don’t we?

Well the first concern seems to be a lack of identifying there is a problem in the first place!

Increased employee engagement, occupational health and work-life balance schemes are beneficial initiatives for individual and organisational health, but in the Daily Mail article, Professor McLeod warned that “workplace anxiety will not go away unless Britain learns how to offer help to staff… but the British ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude often prevents people admitting how awful their workplace is.” 

So what’s the cure?

Well before you flick through your occupational health phonebook looking for a psychologist, therapist, counselor or psychiatrist, I would suggest taking a look at some alternative therapy…and no, I don’t mean reiki, acupuncture or astrology (as beneficial as these things may be to individuals’ lives…) but mediation.

Mediation and conflict management training is now being recognised as an effective alternative dispute resolution ‘therapy’ that will enable you to develop a:

  • Framework – a process whereby a neutral third party intervenes in a dispute to help the parties secure a satisfactory and constructive resolution.
  • Competence – a set of skills that HR, managers and business leaders use to secure constructive outcomes at times of conflict, change and crisi
  • Mindset – a way of thinking and an organisational culture which embraces dialogue and collaboration rather than blame and retribution”. (David Liddle, CEO, The TCM Group)

By undergoing a TCM Conflict Health CheckTM you are more able to get beneath workplace problems and make changes to working practices that can benefit employees and the organisation more generally in the long term.

An internal Resolution Audit ‘diagnosis’ is the initial stage on uncovering:

  • The cost of conflicts and disputes to your business.
  • The impact of conflict on your managers and leaders.
  • The impact of conflict on your employees (stress, morale and productivity).
  • The impact of conflict on the management of change and transformation.
  • The impact of conflict on your employee engagement and wellbeing initiatives.
  • The impact of conflict on your customer’s experience.

By introducing mediation, becoming a trained mediator or implementing an internal resolution scheme into your organisation, our Dispute Resolution Team will look at how to effectively treat some of the common causes and symptoms and support you on:

You will be doing away with ‘Dr Justice’s’ tired, ageing and dogmatic approach to resolving workplace disputes.  Nor will you be bringing in ‘Dr Quack’ to ask all of your employees to dance naked around a bonfire at midnight.

Instead you will be looking at a more comprehensive, holistic and innovative approach to diagnosing and treating workplace symptoms AND causes of workplace conflict.

If you’d like to find out more on our Resolution Audit and Conflict Health CheckTM, then log on to the TCM website at or give us a call on 0800 294 9787 and speak to one our  consultants who’ll be happy to book you in for a check-up.

Remember, prevention is better than cure!

Jerome Witter

Senior Resolution Consultant



Survey reports that “Stress is, for the first time, the most common cause of long-term sickness absence for both manual and non-manual employees.”

– Chartered Institute of Personnel Development Simply Health Absence Management

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