Patrick Watt: Supporting your workforce come rain or shine

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As we emerge out of the winter blues into glorious spring sunshine, it would be all too easy for stress and mental health to fall off the business agenda. But stress can strike whatever the weather.

With 40 per cent of workers experiencing depression as a result of being stressed according to a Bupa study, it’s more important than ever for companies to be supporting employees all year round. This should be a part of a wider programme to manage stress in the workplace, therefore increasing motivation, productivity – and ultimately – profitability.

For a better business

Hector Sants’ resignation from his role at Barclays at the end of 2013 because of stress and exhaustion is a high profile example of something that could be experienced by people at any level of an organisation. In fact, our research shows that 44 per cent of workers in the UK are currently going through a period of stress, with a similar number of those we spoke with having experienced depression as a result.

Businesses that fail to recognise that employees at all levels will need help at some point or another will see an overall negative impact on profitability and productivity. So how can HR departments help to alleviate the pressures of the working world and the impact of stress?

Recognising and communicating 

In order to manage stress levels, it’s imperative for each individual to understand where their breaking point lies. We all want to be recognised for our hard work, so although particular people may feel that taking on more work may win them points, in the long run it’s likely to have a negative impact, causing more stress and anxiety. Businesses need to recognise those who may have taken on a little too much.

But you can’t rely on employees to volunteer this information. Our research shows that 53 per cent of UK employees are unlikely to bring up stress related issues with their manager, highlighting the need for better communication and proactive discussion about stress in UK workplaces.

In many companies mental health issues are commonplace, but the continuing taboo around discussing mental health prevents employees from seeking help when they need it. This stigma is ultimately detrimental to productivity and can lead to long-term absence, affecting both the individual and the organisation.

Promoting a culture where people feel able to speak up when they need help could include training for line managers to equip them with the skills to identify the early signs of stress, depression and anxiety among their teams.

Stopping the stigma

By introducing regular one-to-one catch-ups, managers will be able to identify employees that are struggling. HR departments must ensure that everyone is aware of the options available to them, and that employees can access them confidentially, without consequences at work.

Spring in your step

Exercise can often be the last thing that a person suffering from stress, depression or anxiety wants to do but it can make a big difference. In addition, taking a break and getting some much needed fresh air can help people gain a little perspective. It’s all too easy to become caught up in the working day.

HR departments could for instance promote lunchtime walks, thereby supporting employees to make positive choices about their wellbeing. Those that do so may find that they come back feeling refreshed and in a positive frame of mind for the afternoon.

Reading material

There are lots of resources available on the subject of stress for businesses to use; for instance Management Standards for Tackling Work Related Stress from Health and Safety Executive, as well as the Bupa Stress Guide. Putting together a handbook for employees and managers to access will be an invaluable asset for those looking to understand the issue in more detail.

Everyone within the organisation should know what’s available to them so that they don’t feel they’re dealing with their issues alone. Reading materials will help line managers understand the problems that team members may be experiencing and support them in tackling stress head on.

Giving stress the time it deserves

Stress in the workplace is an issue that isn’t simply going to disappear. This financial year, employers and HR managers need to take the time to assess the situation and implement processes that help employees to deal with any pressures that they may be feeling – without fear of appearing weak in front of colleagues. As a result, they will feel valued, respected and most of all, supported.

Patrick Watt is corporate director at Bupa

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