Stress is frequently identified as one of the biggest causes of long-term sickness absence in our workplace. It is defined as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. It is not an illness but can result in a detrimental effect upon a person’s physical or mental health including anxiety and depression.
There is an added problem in that many employees who have been absent from work due to high levels of stress find the thought of returning to the same place of work stressful in itself. The longer someone is absent from work, the harder it can be for them to return without occupational health or medical intervention, particularly if there is no likelihood of a change in working practices when they go back.
What can cause stress at work?
Stress can be caused where an employee is unable, whether through a lack of skill, training or confidence to fulfil the requirements of a job. The inability to complete a job could be the result of inadequate working practices, poor communication or insufficient support to perform their role. Generally, stress cannot be avoided completely, and it may be caused by external factors. However, it is an employer’s duty to provide a system of work that manages levels of stress in the workplace.
How to tackle stress in the workplace?
1. Recognise the potential legal consequences for employers of failing to protect employees from workplace stress (constructive dismissal, personal injury, unfair dismissal, breach of the Working Time Regulations).
2. Remember that all employers have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees and that “health” in this context includes mental health.
3. Focus on measures that will prevent workplace stress:
* Stress is not a taboo subject, but one discussed openly;
* Awareness of presenteeism….send employees home who are clearly struggling but insist on turning up to work;
* Ensure managers are properly trained as promotion beyond capability is a common cause of stress;
* Good communication is paramount to ensure your workforce are up to date and not feeling anxious about significant forthcoming changes.
4. Ensure that workloads, targets and deadlines are realistic and strive to give individuals more control over their work.
5. Talk to employees regularly to monitor if the demands being made on them are within their individual coping resources.
6. Tackle practices that place pressure on employees to work consistently long hours and take positive steps to ensure that every employee takes regular breaks and holidays.
7. Offer flexible working hours and patterns whenever possible and encourage employees to achieve a work-life balance.
8. Offer sufficient coaching and training to enable employees to perform their job effectively and confidently.
9. Implement an anti-bullying and harassment policy and complaints procedure, making sure that everyone knows that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated.
10. Ensure effective two-way communication between management and staff at all times.
11. Be vigilant to the possibility of employee stress and do not assume that an absence of complaints means that no stress problems exist. An awareness of stress or potential stress requires the employer to address the situation.
In a nutshell, it is imperative to recognise that workplace stress is a serious issue and must be addressed in a positive and constructive manner with a view to prevention or reduction wherever possible. A stress at work policy in your handbook is a MUST!
If you need an up to date stress at work policy or any help at all with a stress at work case, email firstname.lastname@example.org.