Stress Awareness Month April 2024

Stress Awareness Month April 2024

Stress: Is it part of the job, or do workers need protection?

Since the 1990’s, the number of workers self-reporting workplace stress, anxiety and ill health has increased year on year. Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), show that on average 2,590 per 100,000 workers report stress or anxiety in the workplace. In Stress Awareness Month the opportunity arises for Employers to reflect on how they currently manage work-place stress and whether updates are needed to their organisational practices, policies and procedures.

With an increasing trend of employees pursuing workplace “stress” claims, how do employers best protect their business interests whilst promoting a healthy work environment?

Definition of stress

The HSE defines stress as an adverse reaction by someone to excessive demands or pressures, arising when people try to cope with tasks, responsibilities or other types of pressure connected to their job, but find difficulty, strain or worry in doing so.  

What causes Stress at Work?

Many factors can cause Stress at Work:

  • Too many conflicting demands.
  • Too little control over how or when work is done.
  • Too little support or encouragement, or conversely low trust and micro-management
  • Too little training
  • Organisational change and staff turnover

What are an employer’s duties?

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – Places a “duty of care” on employers to protect their employees from the risk of stress at work.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 – Requires all employers to make a “suitable and sufficient assessment” of the risk to the health and safety of their employees at work.

Employers are also under a positive obligation to protect employees from discrimination related to their physical or mental health (if that amounts to a disability), which may include stress and anxiety conditions. That protection arises from the Equality Act 2010.

What are the risks associated with mis-managing stress in the workplace?

For an employer to avoid risk of liability in a claim for stress-induced psychiatric injury, it is incumbent upon them to prioritise organisational stress management activities by having a robust and effective suite of policies, practices and procedures that safeguard both their business and the health and wellbeing of their staff body.

Failing to have an effective safe system of working, including appropriate policies i.e., stress and mental wellbeing policies, presents a real risk of litigation. This can be costly to employers.

In general, most claims related to stress arise in circumstances where an employee has been subject to excessive workload, or have become ill due to workplace bullying for which the employer is liable.

In light of a post-coronavirus blended working environment, with staff often working from both office and home, it can be more difficult for employers to monitor workload and stress levels.   It is important now, more than ever, that employers have confidence in the tools at their disposal in managing staff, working arrangements, and addressing issues including workplace stress.

Top Tips for Employers

  1. Look out for indicators of stress and speak to staff members who may be dealing with stress.
  2. Carry out effective support and monitoring if a staff member has highlighted concern. Record this support and ensure that policies including attendance management, grievance, disciplinary and other policies leave opportunity for the staff member to highlight/raise/discuss concerns including stress/anxiety.
  3. Introduce a stress and wellbeing policy to raise awareness, and to highlight the organisation’s provision of assistance, how it is accessed and who the nominated mental health officer/first aider is. Ensure that a point of contact is identified and communicated.
  4. Provide training, and establish refresher training for managers and if appropriate the general staff population on managing stress, providing assurance that support is available.
  5. Promote a culture of open communication and ask that employees raise issues if they feel they are not coping.
  6. Introduce support services for staff affected or absent by reason of poor mental health – such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), Occupational Health (OH), counselling, mentors and mental-health first aiders.
  7. Produce and implement an annual stress survey among staff and use that data to inform stress risk assessments.
  8. Have a zero-tolerance approach for workplace bullying including a robust Dignity at Work policy included in any handbook, enforce that policy at all times, and ensure that management sets a good example.

Investing in supporting the workforce includes ensuring a robust and up to date suite of employee policies. By being pro-active and ambitious, employers can best promote wellbeing in the workplace whilst minimising risk in an ever-increasing litigation landscape.

If you would like to introduce a stress and mental wellbeing policy in your workplace, or review and update that and any other key policies, please contact a member of our Specialist Employment Law Team.

This update contains general information only and should not be construed as providing legal or other professional advice.

Robert Lindsay Dorrian, Solicitor: / 0131 322 3662 / Connect with Robert on LinkedIn