Stress in the workplace is on the rise and the cost for employers can be huge, not only resulting in lost production but also management time, effects on morale and staff retention. Stress can also result in a number of complex and costly legal claims against employers.
We all need to take stress seriously and manage it properly, not only to prevent it – but also to minimise the risks of it escalating and claims resulting.
The first step for employers is being able to recognise the signs. This can be difficult, particularly if it’s caused by external problems of which you may know nothing about. Often stressed employees will exhibit unusual behaviours or sudden mood changes. It may also be exhibited through poor performance, lax time-keeping or poor decision making.
The second important step for employers is understanding what might be causing stress at work.
The six most common causes of stress at work according to the Health and Safety Executive include:
If you think that an employee is stressed, start by talking to them. It may be that a solution can be found such as a little extra support/supervision, clarity on priorities, workload or a change of workstation. You may also discover that something at home is the cause of the stress, not work.
Appropriate communication should continue even if an employee is off sick. That way the employee knows you are thinking about them and it may help them to return to work sooner. It’s also advisable to hold return to work meetings after a return from sickness absence. The meetings can be brief but they are an important opportunity to discuss the reason for the absence and an opportunity to ensure you prevent a recurrence.
Communication throughout employment is important, scheduling regular supervisions/performance appraisals and regularly checking in on how your people are doing can make all the difference. Likewise, training managers to recognise the symptoms of stress and how to prevent it may nip many cases in the bud. It’s also a good idea to have a stress at work policy which demonstrates that you take the issue seriously and provides guidance on how employees can raise any concerns.
Finally, consulting employees about change where possible will help to alleviate anxiety and uncertainty so be transparent where you can.