National Stress Awareness Month

It's a major cause of lost production in the workplace, so what can businesses do to help employees suffering from stress?

Some 57% of all working days lost to ill health - 15.4 million days - were lost to stress, depression or anxiety in the UK in 2017/18, according to the 'Work-related stress, depression or anxiety statistics in Great Britain, 2018' report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). 

While stress is now responsible for more than half of all workplace absences, it can also affect staff morale, commitment and productivity. "Whatever is causing stress, it is in the interest of employers and managers to help reduce its repercussions," says Alison Hixon, Mentor senior employment law and HR consultant.

Stress Awareness Month - held every April since 1992 - aims to help increase awareness of the causes of and cures for modern stress levels. Helping to identify and address the issues that cause stress in the workplace can have a positive impact on many aspects of business. 

Employers can find themselves ill-prepared to manage stress-related absences in their workforce. As mental health problems can be classed as a disability under equality legislation, managers may fear the legal ramifications of getting it wrong.

Mentor aims to support clients so that they in turn can help their employees and themselves to improve mental health, not to be afraid to talk about it and to put in place the right support at the right time.

How to assess stress levels

So where do you begin when assessing stress levels in the workplace?

  • Consult staff
  • Use staff reviews/performance appraisals
  • Look at patterns in recruitment, sickness and turnover
  • Assess feedback given at return-to-work and exit interviews
  • Survey the workforce then take action on the results to help make improvements

The role of managers

As stress, depression and anxiety have such a huge impact on productivity, managers need to understand the role they can play in addressing mental health in the workplace. 

"Line managers are legally responsible not just for the safety of their employees, but also for their health," says Hixon. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's (CIPD) 'Health and well-being at work' survey report cites management style as one of the top three causes of work-related stress. The organisation's guidance for managers includes the following points:

  • Managers' behaviour towards employees can help prevent or cause stress
  • Managers' influence may protect employees from or expose them to stressful working conditions
  • Managers are well positioned to identify stress in members of their team at an early stage
  • If an employees suffers from stress, their manager is likely to be involved in the solution
  • Managers are increasingly responsible for the implementation of risk assessments of work stress within their team

Six steps for managers

To help reduce the levels of work-related stress, the HSE has developed the Management Standards approach. This approach has six key areas that managers and organisations need to consider in the workplace:

  1. Demands: including factors such as monitoring workload, working hours and any targets an employee may have
  2. Control: how much say an employee has in the work they do
  3. Relationships: including the relationships between line managers and staff
  4. Change: how any changes in the workplace are handled and the way any transitions are communicated to employees
  5. Role: ensuring there is clarity around job roles
  6. Support: such as encouragement, resources and training to help staff meet the needs of the job

Supporting a returning employee

To help support an employee or colleague who has been off work due to stress, think about how you feel when you come back to work after annual leave. Are you anxious? Have things changed while you were away, and, if so, what? How do you feel when opening your email inbox? Asking yourself these questions will help managers understand how an employee may feel when returning to work after being off for a length of time.

"Just the thought of going back to work after a period of illness can cause stress, but if the employee has been off with stress, it takes care and understanding from managers and colleagues to support them in their return," says Hixon. "Meeting outside work first can help, so too can reasonable adjustments to work. And do not underestimate the impact of having a friend at work: they can come in with the employee on their first day back."

Managing stress

Stress affects the majority of us in some form at some point in our lives. Well-being training looks at how to handle stress and how to develop tools and insight that can help.

Top tips:

  • Recognise your stress early
  • Learn some relaxation techniques
  • Try to put things in perspective
  • Manage your time and learn to say no assertively
  • See the funny side, as laughter releases anxiety
  • Stop - have a break and go for a walk
  • Avoid bottling it up and ask for support
  • Exercise
  • Get plenty of sleep

While April is National Stress Awareness Month, Stress Awareness Day on 16 April is the time to take stock and take steps to help protect your own mental health. "With the right support, people recover from stress just as they do from other illnesses," says Hixon.

Click here to find out more about National Stress Awareness Month.

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