Should businesses have New Year’s resolutions? A resolve to address stress amongst staff is a valuable investment to make for 2011. Annually, 11.4 million days are lost due to stress in the workplace with 415,000 individuals believing they are experiencing workplace stress at a level that is making them ill. Unfortunately this is a growing problem, particularly since the economic downturn, so businesses need to continue to address the issue and take action to ensure a happy workforce.

Unlike other health and safety issues, stress is not tangible, which makes it all the more difficult to manage or measure. Common signs and symptoms include increased susceptibility to colds and other infections, headaches, tiredness, a short temper, loss of motivation, excessive smoking and drinking.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities. It is a key responsibility for health and safety professionals to work closely with both business and employees to measure workplace stress levels and identify real steps to minimising and, ideally, preventing stress in the workplace. The following things are key to tackling stress in the workplace:

  • Talk to staff and their representatives and listen to what they have to say
  • Identify stress hotspots, such as particular times of year, impending deadlines, and working unsociable hours
  • Look for improvements
  • Work together to implement a solution
  • Communicate the success of the procedure and address any unsuccessful areas
  • Repeat the audit

Reducing stress at work needn’t be expensive. Allocating a quiet room to give staff a peaceful place to work, encouraging breaks and even introducing a punch bag in the office, are simple and inexpensive ways to tackle the issue and have worked for some of the world’s biggest companies.

The Health and Safety Executive and NHS can provide additional information on stress in general and in the workplace.

Helping employees with stress needn’t be stressful if you get prepared now.