This April, it is Stress Awareness Month.
As an employer, have you ever experienced, or witnessed first-hand, the negative effects of heightened workplace stress?
What is work-related stress?
Stress is often referred to as the ‘silent killer’ due to the extremely detrimental, albeit gradual, effects it can have on one’s health.
Sometimes stress has obvious causes, such as high-workloads, financial worries, drastic life changes or family problems. Other times the cause of stress is nowhere near as clear.
However, this doesn’t make the symptoms any less serious.
How is stress caused?
Being able to recognise what could affect the mental wellbeing of your employees is the first step towards reducing stress levels in the workplace.
The ‘Health and Safety Executive’ has stated that 44 percent of work-related stress incidents occur as a result of high workload, making it the most common source of stress, anxiety and depression amongst employees.
The research additionally highlights the importance of the employers’ role in reducing mental health amongst their employees, as a lack of support from the employer was listed as a significant cause of work-related stress.
Some more obvious causes of work-related stress were said to be conflict and change within the organisation.
How can you prevent work-related stress amongst employees?
If an employee is showing clear signs of stress or discloses to you that they are in need of your support, you should take the time to talk to them and determine how you can help.
Some issues may be resolved easier than others; however, communication is always pivotal when it comes to managing stress at work. Below are several ways you can work towards eliminating stress caused by common workplace issues.
- Monitoring workloads
Ensuring that your employees do not face excessive workloads will not only prevent stress but also allow them to carry out work to the best of their ability. Tasks should be assigned to people with the right skill set, along with reasonable time periods for completion and the correct equipment.
Offering frequent breaks throughout the day is another simple way to let your employees know you value their well-being and encourage self-care to boost productivity. In addition, staff members who are feeling stressed as a result of personal or family issues may appreciate being given the chance to switch their hours around or work from home temporarily.
You and your managers should also be setting a positive example for employees by taking a full dinner/break time and encouraging a healthy work-life balance.
- Preparing for change
As previously mentioned, the HSE has found that organisational change can be a significant cause of work-related stress. Changes occur when a company is aspiring to improve, and will likely impact the entire organisation and its staff. Issues arising from organisational change such as redundancy, acquisition, reorganisation or physical relocation will undoubtedly have an impact on each individual. It is beneficial for staff to be consulted regarding any changes before they occur.
Encouraging staff to share opinions and make suggestions will also assist in making the transition as smooth as possible and reduce changes of employees being resistant to change.
- Conflict resolution
Conflict at work can arise in many forms and is something you should always try to fix immediately before it escalates. As an employee’s line manager is typically the first person to be informed of an incident it’s crucial that all managers are well trained to deal with conflict resolution. Managers should act swiftly and with compassion to keep workplace conflict to a minimum at all times.
HR professionals should also be available to deal with any conflict arising between employees and managers, assuring that all staff members have someone trustworthy they can turn to.
Issues involving allegations of bullying and harassment should be treated seriously and always be investigated thoroughly.
- Remind employees they are valued and supported
This is arguably the easiest step an employer can take to support employee well-being, but it must be consistent and sincere. There is no quick fix to resolving work-related stress, but you can make a significant difference by doing little things to show you care, such as taking the time at dinner or on breaks to check in with employees who you know are struggling.
In larger organisations, it may be beneficial to appoint occupational health services to work on-site or offer free telephone counselling. The needs of your employees will change over time, making communication all that bit more important.
The consequences of stress in the workplace
When an employee is struggling with high levels of stress you will likely see their behaviour and performance deteriorate.
You might notice that they are taking more sick days, struggle to maintain good relationships with colleagues (perhaps even isolating themselves as a result) or show disinterest in excelling at their job.
Stressed employees will find it harder to provide a good standard of service to customers; consequently leading to more complaints and grievances being filed by clients and employees alike. In addition, your employee turnover rate could increase and morale could dwindle.
As an employer, you don’t want any of the above issues to occur in your workplace, which is why you should ensure you can spot the warning signs of stress early.
When you suspect an employees’ subpar performance is due to stress or ill mental wellbeing, it’s advised not to take immediate disciplinary action against them. In some cases, such action can greatly exacerbate what is already a delicate situation.
Do you have a legal obligation to manage work-related stress?
All employers and business owners are required by law to show their staff members a reasonable duty of care.
An employer would be in breach of the law if it became clear that they failed to take reasonable action or make adjustments in order to reduce stress amongst their employees.
Avoiding unfair or constructive dismissal claims
Firing an employee because of the stress they are experiencing would not only be incredibly foolish but could also lead to an unfair dismissal being brought against you. Likewise, if an employee resigns because of stress caused by you (and you failed to do anything about it) the employee might raise a constructive dismissal claim against you.
There are a variety of employment laws which apply to situations like redundancy and TUPE transfers to protect staff. Failing to abide by or breaching these laws can land you in an employment tribunal.