Saturday 1st April marked the beginning of Stress Awareness Month 2023. Stress Awareness Month started in 1992 to increase public awareness of both the causes and the cures for stress, including stress at work.
According to data published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in November 2022, an estimated 17 million working days were lost due to work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2021/2022. This is over half of all working days lost due to work-related ill health.
The rate of self-reported work-related stress remains higher now than it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and, with the present cost of living crisis and rising concerns about the future of the economy, that rate is perhaps likely to rise further.
Stress Awareness Month should serve as a useful reminder for employers to reflect on how they manage work-related stress currently and whether any further steps can be taken to do so.
Definition of stress
Stress can be defined as an adverse reaction by someone to excessive pressures or other demands placed on them. A certain amount of pressure in work can keep staff motivated and give them a sense of ambition. However, if staff become over-loaded by undue pressures and demands placed on them at work, they can become stressed. Other work-related causes of stress are interpersonal conflict, organisational change, poor communication and lack of clarity as to an individual’s role in the organisation.
Identifying work-related stress
Whilst employers should never make assumptions about stress, it is vital that they recognise the signs of stress as early as possible so that steps can be taken before serious stress-induced illness occurs. Some key indicators can include:
- Changes in a person’s usual mood, behaviour or how they interact with others
- Changes in the standard of their work or focus on tasks
- Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and reduced interest in tasks usually enjoyed
- An increase in sickness absences and/or turning up late to work
- Employees not taking their full holiday entitlement
- High staff turnover
- Long-hours work culture
Employers have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to protect employees from stress at work by carrying out a risk assessment and acting on it. Stress in itself is not a disability under the Equality Act 2010, but where it leads to a mental health condition, such as one of the many anxiety disorders or depression, that condition is likely to constitute a disability under the legislation. Employers should, therefore, recognise the need to promote a culture of good mental and physical health in the workplace and consider the following tips.
Tips for managing work-related stress
- Look out for indicators of stress and speak to staff members who may be dealing with stress. Have the conversation in a private place and try to identify the cause.
- Even if the cause of stress is not work-related, changes to the team member’s working arrangements may help to reduce some of the pressure they are experiencing.
- Introduce a stress management policy or mental health plan to raise awareness, highlighting the organisation’s commitment to promoting positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
- Provide training to managers on how to recognise work related stress and mental ill health and how to promote their own mental wellbeing and that of colleagues.
- Promote a culture of open communication and ask that employees raise issues if they feel they are not coping.
- Think about potential solutions (temporary or permanent) around things like working hours, overtime and workload.
- Introduce support services for staff affected or absent by reason of ill mental health – such as Employee Assistance Programmes, Occupational Health, counselling, mentors and mental-health first aiders.
- Conduct a regular stress survey among staff on a periodic basis and use that data to inform stress risk assessments.
- Encourage open, clear communication between staff, and with management.
- Have a zero-tolerance approach for workplace bullying and ensure that management sets a good example.
Investing in supporting employees suffering from work-related stress can increase productivity, wellbeing and job satisfaction, as well as minimising the risk of claims – it’s a win-win.
If you would like to introduce a Stress and Mental Wellbeing policy in your workplace, or to discuss any aspect of this blog, please contact a member of our Specialist Employment Law Team.
This update contains general information only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice.