As we approach National Stress Awareness day (Wednesday 7 November), stress awareness and mental wellbeing has never been so topical for employers and rightly so. According to figures released by HSE last year, it is estimated that 526,000 workers are suffering from work related stress, depression or anxiety.
It is further estimated that 12.5 million working days were lost as a result of work related stress or anxiety in 2016 to 2017, at a huge annual cost to UK businesses. These statistics suggest that approximately 14% of work related stress, depression or anxiety is caused by lack of support and around 44% is attributable to an individual’s workload.
Your duty as an employer
Health and safety legislation obliges employers to assess the risk of stress in the work place and take steps to reduce it. Further, with mental ill health allegedly being accountable for around 40% of all workplace absences, it is important that employers are able to effectively manage the stress levels of their employees and can spot the warning signs of work related stress, depression or anxiety.
HSE recognises six main areas of an employee’s work life which can affect stress levels and should subsequently be monitored by employers.
- The demands of the job. Employees may become stressed if they cannot cope with the volume or level of work they have to do.
- The level of control over work. Employees may perform poorly if they feel they have no control over how and when they do their work
- Lack of support from managers and colleagues can lead to higher levels of sickness absence.
- Relationships at work. Failure to build relationships based on good behaviour and trust can lead to problems related to discipline, grievances and bullying
- How a role fits within the organisation. Employees may feel anxious about their work if they are unaware of what is expected of them or understand how their work fits into the objectives of the organisation.
- Change and how it is managed.
Employers should be mindful of the above scenarios outlined by HSE and should consider how they may negatively impact their employees.
It is also important to consider the fact that different employees may react to stress in different ways. For example, factors such as, age, skill, experience or disability may all affect the way in which a person reacts to stress.
Minimising stress in the work place
So, what can you do as an employer to minimise stress in the work place?
Promote positive mental health
Mental health is still regarded as a “taboo” subject by many and therefore employees may feel uncomfortable discussing their mental health with their employer.
Promoting a positive culture around mental health and wellbeing could reduce stigma, subsequently reducing stress in the work place. It may be helpful to make employees aware of how mental health is managed within an organisation and maintain an open dialogue around the subject.
Further, it is important that employers ensure that their managers are empathetic towards an employee who highlights that they are feeling stressed at work.
Provide adequate training
Many employers will be less comfortable dealing with someone with mental health problems than someone with a physical disability. In order to manage this problem, it is essential that line managers are trained on how to recognise and manage common mental health problems.
Similarly, it is essential that new employees are given sufficient training to ensure that they feel confident in carrying out their duties. This reduces the likelihood of employees feeling unable to handle their responsibilities, therefore reducing the chance of stress.
Manage employee absence
Employers should ensure that they actively manage employee absence in terms of both occasional and long term absence. Employers should also consider holding “return to work” interviews to provide an opportunity to establish the problem and make a plan with the employee going forward.
Employers may also wish to consider the involvement of Occupational Health, particularly in cases of long term absence.
Employers should also consider their HR policies, making sure that they are up to date and take into account how their grievance, dispute or redundancy processes could affect an employee’s mental health.