April is Stress Awareness Month

In recent years we seem to have talked about staff wellbeing and mental health more than ever before, but research shows that stress continues to be one of the main causes of short and long-term absence. CIPD research last year found that four-fifths of employers reported some stress-related absence over the last year.  Some of the main causes of stress were workload and management style, as well as challenges caused by COVID and outside of work factors like family or relationship problems. 

Workplace Stress is defined by HSE as ‘The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work’.  Stress can cause symptoms which can affect work performance and in serious cases lead to long-term absence.  There are too many possible symptoms to list, but they include everything from headaches and muscle tension to stomach problems and irritability.  Stress can lead to anxiety and depression, and is linked to conditions such as alcohol dependency or heart disease.

Employers have a duty of care towards employees to ensure so far as reasonably practicable their health, safety and wellbeing.  All Employers are required to conduct risk assessments which must also be recorded if there are more than five employees.  Risk must be avoided, or where this is not possible, be reduced as far as reasonably practicable.

We all experience some level of pressure at work, and this can be a positive thing to help with motivation, the problem arises where this becomes prolonged and/or excessive.  Stress should be treated as a workplace risk and as such steps should be taken to limit the risk of stress and manage mental health in the workplace.  Stress risk assessments can be helpful tool to assist with proactive management and to put measures in place to limit risk.  Employers need to be aware of the signs of stress, for example changes to work performance or behaviour, employees may be tearful or short-tempered, withdrawn or anxious. 

All employers should have in place stress avoidance measures, and it should be proactively managed at an early stage, to support employees and avoid some of the adverse outcomes like long term absence or high staff turnover.  Having in place a Stress at Work Policy can be helpful to create a healthy culture with clear mechanisms in place to address stress.  Supervision should be appropriate, managers should be trained and aware of work levels and look out for employees who seem unable to switch off or take time out.  Presenteeism should be discouraged.  Staff need to be aware of how to raise concerns if things get too much, and employers should consider training or wellbeing initiatives for staff to help them recognise stress and put in place strategies that may help with pressure.

For advice on mental health and stress at work contact Laura Claridge on 01689 887873.

Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.