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Stress awareness month

April is stress awareness month which aims to increase public awareness about causes and cures for stress.  According to the Mental Health Foundation 74% of adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.  What does an employer need to consider if an employee cites ‘work related stress’?

What is work related stress?

The Health and Safety Executive’s formal definition of work-related stress is “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.”  Stress is not an illness; it is a state.  However, if stress becomes too excessive and prolonged, mental and physical illness may develop.

There are various signs of stress that you might see such as an employee taking more time off, arriving for work later, being withdrawn, being moody and being more tearful or aggressive.  In a team you may notice more conflict, higher sickness absence and decreased performance.  If you spot signs, try and act quickly and have an open and honest conversation.  The earlier this is discussed, the less likely they are to go off sick.

How can we identify the stressors?

HSE state there are six main areas of work design which can affect stress levels, these are:

  • Demands (workload, work patterns and the work environment)
  • Control (how much say an individual has in the way they do their work)
  • Support (encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the company, colleagues and line managers)
  • Relationships (promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour)
  • Role (understanding their role within the company and whether the company ensures they don’t have conflicting roles)
  • Change (how change is managed and communicated)

If you have more than 5 employees, your risk assessment should cover stress at work.  An example can be found on the HSE website HERE If an employee is experiencing what they perceive to be work related stress, it can be useful to complete an individual stress risk assessment with them which covers the six areas above to identify which areas are causing them stress and whether any action can be taken to address this (this isn’t always possible).  Then set a review point.  If you offer an Employee Assistance Programme, they may be able to utilise free advice and counselling.

What if the employee won’t engage with us?

Try to communicate with them that you need to have a conversation around the issues to help alleviate their stress as until that happens the individual is not likely to work to a standard you need or if they are absent from work due to being signed off sick, they are unlikely to return until the issues are addressed.  You can request GP information with their consent, and you could also ask them to speak to an Occupational Health Advisor as they may be more willing to be open and honest with them and they will be able to advise on likely fitness for a meeting.  Other options include offering to meet them in a neutral location, that a family member attends with them or offer that they can provide you with written information.  However, if they are unwilling to engage or unlikely to be fit for a long period of time, it may be that you need to manage their absence through a capability process.  If they continue to not want to engage, they must be informed that you will need to make decisions based on the information you have available to you.

Top tips

Mind have some useful tips on how to be mentally healthy at work which you can find HERE.

There are some activities such as the 30-day challenge for stress awareness month which can be found HERE.