Stress Awareness Month

April marks Stress Awareness month to continue to help raise awareness of mental health issues in what the Stress Management Society refer to as  “modern stress epidemic”.  With the pandemic and lockdowns, increased stress awareness in the workplace may be needed more than ever.    Research from the Mental Health Foundation has found that in the last year 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at times that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.  

Stress can manifest in many ways and can be work related.  Even if it is not work related, stress can affect attendance at work, performance and conduct.   An employer has a duty of care to provide a safe place of work and to protect an employee’s health – this will include their mental health and wellbeing.    Employers who fail to take action to address an employee’s ill health are at risk of potential claims for unfair dismissal, discrimination and even personal injury if work causes or worsens a mental health issue.  

Recognising the signs and symptoms of stress and understanding the causes and effects of stress are therefore critically important for all employers.   Covid-19 continues to have a significant impact on employee health.    Whilst many employers have embraced home working or hybrid working patterns, just under three-quarters of employers surveyed were actually providing new or better support for employees working from home.     It remains important to continue to carry out risk assessment for lone workers or home workers to ensure that they are taking regular breaks and time away from screens which is essential for their health and wellbeing.  Lone workers often suffer with increased feeling of isolation, don’t take regular breaks and are vulnerable to mental health issues such as stress.    It is widely accepted that having an open and supportive culture enables employees to feel safe about discussing stress or mental health issues with a manager or employer and evidence shows that employees suffering with mental health issues such as stress are able to improve their attendance and performance when they work in an open and supportive culture.  

Management style, unmanageable workloads and unrealistic timescales all continue to be reported as a key cause of work-related stress.   Employers should review their training for HR and management and ensure that HR and managers are able to spot signs of stress and understand how to approach this with employees and to offer support to employees.   Employers can also reduce the risk of stress by providing meaningful work and realistic timeframes to help manage work related stress.

Managing stress related sickness absence remains important for an employer to help reduce risk of any claims made by an employee suffering with stress or other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.    A referral to Occupational Health should always be considered and any adjustments to a role that can reasonably be made should be discussed with the employee and implemented.     It is also recommended that an employer should seek a fit note to confirm a return to work when the employees GP might make some recommendations for short term changes to the role to support the employee’s return to work.     Ensure that if your organisation offers employer funded support such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) scheme, that the employees are aware of it and that HR or a line manager knows to sign post an employee for help and support.   Promoting a work life balance and awareness of mental health across the workforce will help break down barriers to conversations or taboos. 

Mental health issues and stress can sadly lead to self-harm.  Organisations should have a strategy to help prevent the risk of suicide as part of a mental health strategy.  There are numerous sources of advice and support for employers from mental health charities such as MIND as well as the CIPD who produce a number of useful guides and training materials on mental health.  

Our employment team regularly advise clients about employee absence due to mental health and can support your organisation with a review of policy and training as well as advice on managing absent employees, OH referrals and reports, meeting with employees and advice on decisions about their employment. 

To speak to a member of our employment team in complete confidence, please contact 01689 887840.

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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.