April is Stress Awareness Month[i] which seeks to raise awareness of this growing problem. It’s also a good opportunity for employers to consider their role in helping reduce stress in the workplace.
The Health and Safety Executive[ii] says that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17. Some of the causes include workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.
Adrian Lewis, Director of absence management software company, Activ Absence says, “Stress is a growing epidemic in Britain’s workplaces. High pressure working environments, a long working hours culture and the increased use of mobile technology can make it difficult for people to switch off. Increasingly, we are talking to employers who are very concerned about how to alleviate employee stress and improve people’s mental wellbeing.”
Recent research from Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) in association with Punter Southall Health & Protection, highlighted that mental health was the top concern for Britain’s CEOs when it came to wellbeing, with almost three in five (60%) CEOs saying it is the area of employee wellbeing that interests the Board most.
Adrian Lewis, says,
“Mental health is moving up the workplace agenda, with more CEOs wanting to tackle the issue but many are still overlooking the fact that more must be done to help identify potential mental health issues early on before problems escalate.”
“Monitoring absence patterns and producing detailed reports is one way for companies to do this. These can be used in conjunction with return to work interviews and data analysed to show the true picture of the health and mental wellbeing of their workforce.”
Lewis says that companies should use this data to ensure their staff wellbeing initiatives are being targeted accurately and that they address the needs of employees. Data can also help line managers identify employees with possible mental health challenges and direct them to support services such as EAPS and counselling which can help them work through their issues and provide vital support to get them on the road to recovery more quickly.
Adrian Lewis offers the following ten tips for managing stress in the workplace:
- Encourage conversations about mental health and promote an open culture where people feel they can talk to their line manager about any concerns.
- Include a section on the intranet about stress, recognising the symptoms and ways to reduce stress such as exercise. Make sure staff are aware this section is there.
- Consider introducing flexible working practices and allowing people to work at home now and again. For instance, some companies let employees do a nine day fortnight which means they can get every second Friday off.
- Train managers to recognise stress, anxiety and depression and how to manage staff with mental health issues.
- Look at ways to improve employee engagement and morale. For instance, introduce Friday afternoon drinks to thank everyone for their hard work or a monthly team outing for lunch.
- Encourage people to take regular breaks and not eat lunch at their desks. Time away from their desk and perhaps going for a walk outside can help people feel more refreshed and less stressed, plus it’s good for their posture.
- Hold a social media free day or week. This could even be a sponsored event to raise money for a local charity. Social media is known to increase stress, so by raising awareness of this link, people may start to monitor their usage.
- Don’t rely on out-of-date paper forms and spreadsheets to monitor absence trends. Invest in an absence management system so absence can be tracked, along with holiday leave or any other leave (volunteer/study days etc.). This can also make managing flexible working easier.
- Always conduct back to work interviews when people are off sick, so that employees can talk about any issues that might be causing them stress. It’s also an opportunity to spot areas of concern.
- Create a positive working culture by regularly praising and recognising achievements and encourage employees to suggest new ideas and become more involved in the goals of the organisation.