Stress is a serious condition that can impact many employees. It is vital that employers recognise and identify stress before it escalates or exacerbates other serious mental or physical health problems.
The Health and Safety Executive estimates that over 15.4 million work days were lost to work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18, costing the economy approximately £6.5 billion each year.
So how do you identify and manage stress in the workplace and how can employers help support employees’ wellbeing?
Consider the demands on the employee
Is the workload reasonable? Employers have a legal responsibility set out by the Health and Safety Executive to assess the risk of work related stress and to take measures to control this. Ensuring that the work level is appropriate and time demands are achievable is one way to reduce the stress of an employee.
Giving employees unrealistic targets may increase their stress and increase the employee’s dissatisfaction at work. This in turn can lead to underperformance costing businesses potential profit.
Be aware that this will be different for each employee so one size fits all is not the case here.
Training and support
Ensuring that employees are fully trained to do their role is important. Employees who are uncertain of what they are doing or lack the capability to do the role will feel an increased level of stress. Reviewing employee training and holding regular reviews will help them feel more supported.
This is a particularly important factor when it comes to staff retention in roles where the skills needed are in high demand in the labour market.
Ensuring that all managers have a consistent approach to managing stress within the workplace is key as an inconsistent approach will encourage divisions within the company and ultimately may lead to staff resignations.
Training managers in consistency and to listen and talk to their employees could reduce the likelihood of employees going off sick or even long term sickness absence.
Improving team relationships
Having a good support network helps reduce stress levels, so creating this environment within teams is essential. If employees have others to discuss, or even share workloads, bounce ideas off and indeed have peers to turn to if they are struggling will produce a more efficient and less stressed workforce.
A team does not always have to be peers who are working in the same job. They can be people in the same office, on the same desk or employees who carry out similar functions.
Having strong teams can also help improve knowledge sharing and reduce any key person dependencies that a business may have.
Consider an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
EAPs are becoming very popular within the working environment and are intended to help employees deal with personal problems that could negatively impact their performance at work.
Many also offer support to people living within the employee’s household, acknowledging that the mental wellbeing of family can also impact on the employee’s mental wellbeing.
Flexible working contributes to employees feeling trusted, appreciated and, managed well, will reduce their stress levels both in and outside of the workplace.
Working flexibly empowers employees and helps them juggle the pressures and demands in their personal life and balance that with the pressures of work. Giving staff more autonomy over their working day can increase productivity for the time the employee is in work.
Being flexible can also actively reduce stress levels by enabling employees to avoid stressful situations such as rush hour traffic, and subsequently difficult commutes and simplifying childcare arrangements.
While many employees enjoy and are motivated by challenges, ensuring that these are achievable and reasonable will help ambitious employees achieve more. When setting targets, assess each employee and the workplace ensuring you get the right balance between motivating staff members and not overloading the employee with workload they will not be able to manage.
Having a proactive policy in place to deal with stress will avoid employees going into ‘burnout’ and impacting negatively on the performance of the business.
If you’d like to find out more about how to implement an employee assistance programme and the associated costs or for further advice on managing employee stress contact one of our Employment Law Advisers on 0161 603 2156 to arrange your free initial consultation.