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Ways to combat stress in the workplace

Resilient individuals can mean reduced sickness absence and better productivity – all leading to enhanced company performance.

Ways to combat stress in the workplace

Most businesses, no matter how small, are starting to realise the importance of good mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. The Health and Well-being at Work report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in May 2018 revealed that, alongside mental ill-health, stress is the second biggest cause of both short-term and long-term absence.

Additionally, the Health and Safety Executive has found that 40% of all work-related illnesses are the result of workplace stress, depression and anxiety, and account for an average of 24 days off for each person over their working life. Yet the CIPD has also found that almost 30% of businesses which have cited stress as one of the top three causes of absence are doing nothing about it.

There are huge business benefits to be gained by recognising and addressing the problem, according to employee benefits provider Unum. It says that counselling provided through its employee assistance programme improves mental health for 92% of its users.1

Roots of success

A resilient organisation relies on resilient individuals. Resilient individuals can mean reduced sickness absence, engaged employees, teams that support each other through tough times, and better productivity.

However, building resilience goes beyond the individual. Managers and organisations have an important part to play in supporting and encouraging healthy behaviours, and providing support to return to work if ill health does occur. Employees who feel unsupported and concerned about repercussions are less likely to ask for help and therefore more likely to struggle.

Line managers can often be the first line of defence in stress prevention. Training them to spot the signs can help nip potential problems in the bud and stop a short-term concern from becoming a long-term problem. Group risk insurance providers can often offer training sessions – face-to-face, online or via webinar – as part and parcel of their employee assistance programmes.

One such provider, Unum, recommends that employers take the following proactive steps.

1. Consider the evidence –  Managers should start conversations based on the changes they have seen, any problems they may have heard or already know about, or physical records such as increased absence.

2. Understand the issues – Any discussion should take place in a relaxed and private setting. Managers should listen to what the person has to say, gather information and work together to understand and recognise the issues.

3. Identify solutions – There should be no pressure to come up with answers on the spot, while others should be involved if it’s felt necessary. What’s achievable depends on how practical it is to make changes to the employee’s role.  Where it’s possible, the employer can look at altering their responsibilities - minimising contact with customers, or introducing flexible working, such as changing their hours or allowing them to work from home. Where changes are impractical, helping to prioritise tasks, offering work-related training or weekly catch-ups to provide social support are all worth exploring. If the problem is nothing to do with work, employers should be empathic and offer compassionate leave, or counselling. Many employee assistance programmes provide advice and support, including counselling, on a range of work/life issues.

4. Agree an action plan – It’s important that both (or all) parties are on the same page and the employee is involved in the decision-making. However, while it can be tempting to ‘see how things go’, the plan should be specific and time-limited.

5. Implement the solutions – Action should be taken immediately because short-term issues can become long-term problems. Employers should prioritise and tackle the main causes of stress and look for support where it’s needed, such as from HR, occupational health or an internal or external employee assistance programme. Record-keeping should include the date of the meeting, what was discussed, the action plan and the actual actions taken.

6. Review – Finally, regular reviews should take place where everyone can check on progress, talk about what’s working and what isn’t, and where tweaks need to be made to the ongoing action plan.

1, March 2018.

Where the opinions of third parties are offered, these may not necessarily reflect those of St. James’s Place.