Stress Awareness Month 2022
- 14th Apr 2022
April is Stress Awareness Month so there has never been a more relevant time to consider work-related stress. The issue of stress in the workplace has always been present and with mental health issues estimated to cost employers about £45 billion every year it is a subject that is perilous to ignore.
By aleksMLP Law
April is Stress Awareness Month so there has never been a more relevant time to consider work-related stress.
The issue of stress in the workplace has always been present and with mental health issues estimated to cost employers about £45 billion every year it is a subject that is perilous to ignore. Yet, recent cultural changes, including the widespread adoption of working from home and hybrid working, mean that there are many new pressures facing staff, together with all the usual strains imposed by working life. With all these factors combining to exacerbate employees’ stress levels, how should employer’s manage the potential problems posed by work related stress?
What is stress?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. Stress is not in itself an illness, but can make individuals ill, for instance by leading to conditions such as anxiety and depression. Stress, anxiety and depression can also increase the risk of conditions like heart disease, back pain, gastrointestinal illnesses or skin conditions.
The impact of stress in the workplace
In general terms, reducing work-related stress can help to:
•make staff healthier and happier at work
•improve performance and productivity
•reduce absence levels
•reduce workplace disputes and minimise the risk of employment claims, and
•make the organisation more attractive to job seekers
Moreover, whilst stress can be debilitating in its own right, in some cases, conditions caused by stress may amount to a disability in a legal sense, affording affected employees protection under discrimination legislation.
Risk assess the workplace
To reduce the impact of stress, it is vital to ensure that your business has systems in place to minimise work-related stress and manage its effects. The HSE identifies six key areas of work design that, if not properly managed, can lead to work-related stress. These are:
•demands—this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment; staff can become overloaded if they cannot cope with the amount of work or type of work they are asked to do;
•control—how much say the individual has in the way they do their work; staff can feel disaffected and perform poorly if they have no say over how and when they do their work;
•support—this includes encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues; levels of sickness absence often rise if staff feel they cannot talk to managers about issues troubling them;
•relationships—this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour; a failure to build relationships based on good behaviour and trust can lead to problems related to discipline, grievances and bullying;
•role—whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles; staff will feel anxious about their work and the organisation if they do not know what is expected of them and/or understand how their work fits into the objectives of the organisation; and
•change—how organisational change (large and small) is managed and communicated in the organisation; change needs to be managed effectively or it can lead to huge uncertainty and insecurity.
Employers should therefore first assess the risks in these areas, in order to effectively manage stress in the workplace.
To confront the challenges posed by work-related stress, HSE has launched its Working Minds campaign, with specific advice based on 5 simple steps:
1. reach out and have conversations about stress e.g. arrange an employee led working task force to arrange appropriate events
2. recognise the signs of stress e.g. irritability
3. respond to any risks identified e.g. have mental health advocates and appropriate management training
4. reflect on what’s happened
5. make it routine
This approach can help employers recognise and respond to issues early, before they escalate.
Ultimately, opening up a dialogue about stress in the workplace – especially effective if senior members of staff participate – can be the first step to tackling and reducing work-related stress. It is also vital to have effective policies in place, which give employees who are feeling stressed appropriate channels to communicate their concerns and receive help.
Employers who can point to effective systems, targeted at reducing work-related stress, can help to minimise the risk of litigation, reduce employee absence and generally improve the sense of well-being and morale in the workplace.
If you would like advice from the Employment team at MLP Law in respect of any of the issues raised here or more generally, please do not hesitate to get in touch on 0161 926 9969 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us on Twitter @HRHeroUK.
About the expert
Stephen is the Owner of MLP Law and leads our Commercial, IP and Dispute Resolution teams which provide advice on all aspects of the law relating to mergers, acquisitions, financing, re-structuring, complex commercial contracts, standard trading terms, share options, shareholder and partnership agreements, commercial dispute resolution, joint venture and partnering arrangements, IT and Technology law, Intellectual Property, EU and competition law, Brexit and GDPR.
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