There are many causes of stress, one of which is employment issues that can cause work-related stress. Other common causes of stress are relationship problems, family issues, financial difficulties and illness/health concerns.
Sickness absence caused by mental health issues is estimated to have cost the UK economy £34.9 billion last year in a report by the Centre for Mental Health. If left unmanaged it can reduce staff morale and motivation and cause higher staff turnover.
There are many things that employers and line managers can do to support their employees or direct reports who may be affected by stress. The first step is to recognise that stress can affect staff at all levels in the business and that stress affects everybody differently.
Signs of stress
It is important to spot signs that a person may be suffering from stress. Symptoms can include but are not limited to: low energy, sweating, frequent infections such as coughs and colds, headaches, an upset stomach including diarrhea, nausea, aches, chest pains, palpitations and behaving out of character, (such as being overly emotional).
Stress can include sudden outbursts of anger or irritability, behavior that appears irrational or illogical, or the employee seeming quieter than normal and withdrawing socially. Conversely a usually reserved employee may become challenging or confrontational when feeling under excessive stress.
People under stress on a long-term basis, especially those prone to chronic stress, are more susceptible to serious health issues such as insomnia, high blood pressure and heart disease.
What can employees do to help themselves, if they believe they are affected by stress?
- Inform and discuss with their line manager, if possible
- Seek medical support from their GP if they feel this is necessary, including being prescribed medication and undertaking talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy, where appropriate
What can employers do to help staff manage stress?
- Manage workloads effectively
- Have clear job descriptions that outline the remit of all roles and expectations/key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Conduct performance reviews/appraisals regularly and give written feedback as appropriate
- Take action to deal with conflict in the workplace quickly, if they become aware of issues, for example allegations of bullying and harassment
- Deal with grievances and disciplinary issues including performance management promptly
- Train and induct staff appropriately for their role
- Have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place to refer staff to if they are believed to be struggling, so that they can access counselling services free of charge and confidentially.
- Appoint a workplace ‘mental health champion’ who staff can speak to informally
- Conduct stress risk assessments identifying stress triggers and control measures
- Consider referring to an Occupational Health Therapist for an Occupational Health Assessment where you have an employee on long term sick leave (more than four weeks) due to stress or related mental health issues. Alcumus PSM partners with Occupational Health provider, Fusion for specialist support in this area.
Please contact the Alcumus PSM HR Consultancy team if you would like to find out more about managing stress in the workplace or have any queries on [email protected].
Alcumus PSM has published a whitepaper on mental health in the workplace which advises employers on how to support staff who are experiencing difficulties.
Alcumus PSM (People & Safety Management) specialises in human resources (HR) and health and safety (H&S) consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Written by Sophie Millington, HR Consultant