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Stress at work

Research suggests that stress is one of the most common causes of long term sickness.  The 2012 Health & Safety Executive (“HSE”) report highlights that work related stress caused workers in Great Britain to lose 10.4 million working days in 2011/12.

What is stress?

The HSE defines stress as the “adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”. The common effects of stress are both mental illness such as anxiety and depression as well as physical health problems such as heart disease.

It is often difficult to identify someone who is suffering from stress. Employees commonly try to hide the fact they are suffering.  Common signs of stress include:

  • declining performance;
  • leaving early;
  • looking withdrawn;
  • change of personality;
  • mood swings;
  • sickness absence;
  • resigned attitude;
  • loss of motivation or commitment;
  • arriving late for work.

Whilst it is healthy for employees to have pressures placed on them as this is beneficial in improving performance and job satisfaction too much pressure can be harmful to health. Many employees are quite well aware of their work related stress rights and employers should take note.

There are many ways that employers can manage the effects of stress on its employees.  Not adequately dealing with stress in the workplace can ultimately lead to Employment Tribunal claims or claims in the Civil Courts for personal injury.

Can we help?

Benefits of tackling stress in the workplace

Employers have a duty to protect workers from injury at work.  This applies to both physical and psychological injuries.

There are clear benefits to both employers and employees of dealing effectively with work related stress.  The most prominent benefit is the quality of life for employees.  Employees feel happier and perform better in their work. A further benefit is that it improves employment relations.  Problems can be dealt with at work rather than problems progressing to an Employment Tribunal claim or a personal injury claim.

A further benefit is that by dealing with a common cause of long term sickness, sickness absence should decrease and attendance levels go up.

Finally, a well managed workforce leads to a lower risk of claims – and lower insurance premiums!

Ways in which employers can deal with stress in the workplace

There are a number of ways which employers can help manage stress in the workplace:

  • Consider flexible working for employees.  Employers could consider if flexible working would help manage the demands on employees.  Often flexible working is extremely beneficial for businesses.
  • Considering the design of an employee’s job.  If the job is causing an employee stress can it be changed to help alleviate the stress on the employee?  It may be the case that the job can be changed in order to increase productivity and save time.
  • Meeting with employees regularly.  If the meetings are effective they should allow for employees to talk about any workload or other problems at work.  In turn employers should be able to amend job roles and tasks in order to assist with the problem.
  • Provide good training for employees.  One of the main causes of stress is a person’s ability not matching the requirements of the job.  Good training helps to ensure that an employee can carry out their job effectively.
  • Using return to work interviews after sickness absence and performance appraisals to identify any underlying stress-related reason for absence or poor performance.
  • Training managers to recognise situations likely to cause stress and to identify the symptoms of stress and how to manage stress.
  • Designing a stress policy. The policy should make it clear that stress is taken seriously in the workplace.  An effective policy should give employees guidance as to how they should deal with stress.  Employees should also be informed how to raise concerns in the workplace.
  • Avoiding placing unreasonable demands on employees by prioritising workloads and appropriate delegation of duties.

What should be contained in stress policies?

It is important that employers have an adequate stress policy.  The employer’s attitude to stress should be set out in an initial statement.  The correct statement at the outset of the policy helps put across the right message to employees. An employee’s work related stress rights should be set out.

An effective stress policy should provide for:

  • Training for managers on how the policy should be implemented.
  • Training for employees on how they should help raise awareness about stress in the workplace.
  • Effective communication channels and methods of investigating reported workplace incidents or behaviour giving rise to stress.

Other policies that should be linked to a stress policy are:

  • Anti-bullying and harassment policy;
  • Sickness absence policy;
  • Capability policy;
  • Grievance procedure;
  • Disciplinary procedure;
  • Flexible working policy.

Take a look at our company handbooks product for more information.

Stress related illnesses can lead to various types of claims

It is important that stress at work is taken seriously.  Failure to manage the situation can lead to employees bringing various claims with work related stress rights such as:

Other sources of support and advice

There are many organisations that can offer support and advice to employers or employees suffering work-related stress.  These include:

Take this NHS stress tool to see if you are stressed by your job: http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/Workplacestress.aspx

For business law advice call 0845 225 2635

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