Dealing with Stress at Work
Stress is defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as the “adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed on them”. Stress is not an illness, it is a state. If stress becomes excessive and prolonged, it can lead to physical and mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression or heart disease.
Work-related stress is the single biggest cause of working days lost through workplace absence, according to the HSE, and research shows that the problem is worsening.
Stress can be a complex issue for an employer to deal with, not only because it is difficult to identify, but also because there is no legislation in the UK that specifically deals with it.
As human resource advisors, we work with business owners to help them combat and reduce workplace stress. Here are our top 10 tips on dealing with stress at work:
1. Look out for signs of stress
It can be difficult to identify employees who are suffering from stress. Telltale signs include:
- Declining or inconsistent performance
- Uncharacteristic errors
- Lapses in memory
- Loss of motivation and commitment
- Crying or irritability
2. Make sure you’re meeting your legal obligations on working time
Under European regulations, working adults are entitled to:
- a 48-hour limit on hours worked per week
- daily rest breaks
- weekly rest periods
- in-work rest breaks
- paid annual leave
- special protection for night workers and, in particular, those night workers whose work involves special hazards
3. Consider stress when dealing with staff performance issues
Quite often, performance problems and stress will be closely linked. Such issues need to be managed carefully, and you must ensure you act reasonably. A dismissal could be deemed to be unfair at an employment tribunal unless robust procedures are followed.
4. Remember – stress-related conditions can be considered a disability
A stress-related condition could amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Dismissal, or failure to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate the employee, could be deemed unlawful discrimination.
5. Consider stress as a possible cause of employee absence
Conduct return-to-work interviews following sickness absence, and use regular performance appraisals to identify any underlying stress-related reason for absence or poor performance.
6. Create internal systems to tackle stress
Designing and implementing a stress management policy makes it clear to your employees that you take the issue seriously. An effective policy will set out clear procedures that employees can follow if they feel they are suffering from stress-related issues. Small businesses may prefer to have a third party talk to the employee, or coach and support the manager through the discussions – we can help.
7. Help managers to identify stress
Training managers to identify and tackle stress-related issues can help to nip problems in the bud at an early stage.
8. Provide training for employees and new starters
Providing training on how to cope with stressful situations ensures that all employees have the skills to manage their own stress levels, and are fully aware of the internal procedures set out in your stress policy.
9. Improve internal communication
Establishing clear lines of communication throughout the business can prevent feelings of isolation, particularly amongst new starters. A comprehensive internal communications strategy can boost morale and engagement by ensuring that your workforce feels valued and involved.
10. Allow access to confidential support
In terms of practical steps to limit the risk of you being found to have caused employee stress, the Court of Appeal has given guidance that an employer who offers confidential help (for example in the form of counselling or a helpline) to employees suffering stress is unlikely to be found in breach of its duty of care. NB: if you are unsure as to your legal obligations regarding stress management, we can help.
What do you think? As an employer, do you have any thoughts or advice on dealing with stress in the workplace? Have you encountered problems with work-related stress? Get involved in the discussion by leaving a comment below. We’d love to hear your thoughts!