Over 12 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17, according to the Health and Safety Executive. During Stress Awareness Month Dr Philip McCrea, Chief Medical Officer of BHSF Occupational Health, shines a light on the problem and offers his top tips to help eliminate stress in the workplace.

Identify risk factors

To prevent stress, businesses must assess risk factors in a similar way to how health and safety hazards would be evaluated. By understanding the risks, employers can ensure they are pre-emptive in their approach to the management of stress.

Risk factors can include the level of demand placed on an employee and if they are able to cope, or the potential for relationship conflict in the working environment, for example.

Train managers in recognition and intervention

Early detection of stress is essential, and can make a significant difference to both the employee and the business – both of which will be adversely affected if an employee needs to take time off work.

As a key point of contact with their employees on a day-to-day basis, managers can often be the first to spot symptoms of stress, such as a change in an individual’s performance, or a difference in their mood, and therefore, they are well placed to ensure steps are taken early on to identify their stressors and work to eliminate them.

Implementing active management of any stress-related illness can ensure costly absences from work are prevented. The good news is this can sometimes be relatively quick to fix by making changes to the employee’s workload or simply moving them to another team, for example.

Many employers are now introducing Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace, to act as a “go to” resource for employees who want to talk to someone but are reluctant to approach their line manager. Training people in mental health awareness and skills at a blend of levels throughout an organisation can be hugely effective.

Monitor and review effectiveness

Occupational health has a key role in collecting and analysing health data that can highlight any trends in the wellbeing of staff. If one team in an organisation has a high rate of stress-related illness, it can be possible for the cause to be highlighted and therefore removed.

It is essential for employers to understand the crucial role occupational health can have on the wellbeing and productivity of employees. By understanding the many potential causes of stress in the workplace, training employees to understand the signs and symptoms, and monitoring and reviewing the measures in place to reduce stress, employers have the opportunity to eliminate stress from their organisation.

Today’s business leaders undoubtedly face a ticking time bomb when it comes to workplace stress. However, there is an opportunity to act now and proactively confront the issue to prevent it having a detrimental effect on the business in the long term, and there is no need to go it alone.