Employers have a legal duty to ensure the well-being of their workers and to take appropriate action to assess the risk of workplace stress. In addition to this, employers should be aware of the wider implications of work-related stress on employees and the organisation as a whole.
The impact of stress can significantly affect a business as well as individuals. With sickness absence, performance, and retention issues. In addition, this could result in a negative impact on the reputation of your business and brand. It’s therefore prudent that employers should take action to reduce the levels and impact of workplace stress.
Employer’s Duty of Care
Legally, an employer is under a duty to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their workforce, so far as is reasonably practicable, including their mental well-being. It is widely recognised within the UK that work-related stress is a serious health and safety issue and should be treated in the same way as any other potential workplace hazard.
Recognising the signs of work-related stress can be difficult due to the number of ways it can present in individuals. Common symptoms can include fatigue, insomnia, headaches, panic attack, lack of energy, concentration or focus, or any combination of these. If not addressed, these symptoms can often lead to other long-term mental health problems and an increased risk of physical health problems.
Causes of Work-Related Stress
Various factors can trigger work-related stress. These can be different for each individual and often include:
- Excessive workloads or last minute deadlines
- Working long hours, missing breaks, or taking work home
- Being required to work in a poor or unsafe working environment
- Lack of support from colleagues or management
- Taking on too much responsibility
- Lack of career progression or job insecurity
- Being exposed to bullying or harassment in the workplace
- Conflict and confrontation caused by difficult working relationships
- Being discriminated against or victimised in the workplace
Managing Work-Related Stress
Having a culture that puts the well-being of colleagues at the forefront and having an ‘open door’ policy is a great place to begin managing, and preventing work-place stress. As is just asking how a colleague is today. Carrying out regular risk assessments to identify risk factors and putting controls in place to remove or reduce any risks is another step to managing work-place stress. But it doesn’t end there.
If you identify that an employee is suffering from work-related stress, over and above the normal pressures of work, the situation must be investigated, and action taken.
It may be that the employee is unwilling to admit to feeling stressed and overwhelmed, so it can often fall to the employer and line managers to recognise the signs before it’s too late (which can be difficult as stress can manifest itself in many ways). Some common signs to watch for include:
- A drop in performance at work
- Increased absenteeism or lateness
- An inability to carry out normal tasks or follow simple instructions
- Uncharacteristic mistakes or accidents at work
- A lack of engagement, motivation or enthusiasm
- Change in attitude, including cynicism or negativity
- A change in behaviour, including becoming withdrawn, sensitive or irritable
- Self-isolation or social withdrawal from co-workers
- Increased conflict and confrontations with co-workers
- Increased complaints and grievances from or about an employee
- Complaining about feeling exhausted or physical signs of fatigue
- Deterioration in appearance or personal hygiene
- Obvious weight gain or weight loss
- Signs of alcohol or substance misuse.
Once you have identified that an employee is suffering from work-related stress you should speak with the individual and conduct a workplace investigation – identify the source, reduce the effects and support the employee in their recovery.
If you have an employee on long-term sick leave, a part of a good return to work process, could include a referral for an occupational health assessment, assuming you have access to an occupational health team or external provider, This process can also be carried out for short-term absences and will help demonstrate your commitment to the health, safety and wellbeing of your staff.
In all cases, employees suffering from stress should be given sufficient time to recover and an appropriate return to work plan drawn up and agreed with them, prior to returning to work. On their return, they should not be expected to return to the risk factors that caused the initial stress. This may require you to review with them their job description, reduce working hours or workload, or transfer to another role.
If the stress has been caused by workplace conflict, it may require disciplinary action to be taken against those involved in any bullying or harassment.
If you have employees showing signs of stress, but continuing to work rather than disclose their symptoms, you will need to handle with care. Appraisals can be a useful way to indirectly discuss the situation in a way the employee feels more comfortable.
Reducing Work-Related Stress
There are several ways employers can fulfil their duty of care towards their employees and identify and address any potential risk factors, including
- Implementing a well-being program and initiatives such as well-being focus and support groups, gym membership, mental health days, and no food at the desk policy.
- Providing mental health training for all staff, especially managers and leaders, on how to spot the signs of work-related stress, how to prevent the symptoms from escalating, how to alleviate the risk factors and provide support to employees/colleagues showing signs of work-related stress.
- Creating a healthy work/life balance such as limiting overtime, ensuring staff use all their holidays and offering flexible working arrangements.
Supporting mental health doesn’t need to be expensive. There are many cost-effective ways you can provide a happy and healthy environment for your employees.
Tudor Rose Workplace Well-being work with employers on all aspects of workplace well-being. We offer a bespoke solution to help optimise performance and reduce absence.
For further information speak to Jane today.