Under pressure: Stress in the workplace

This week is Mental Health Awareness week and this year’s campaign is focused on stress.

We have all experienced stress in some shape or form in our lives and many of us are all too aware of the debilitating effects that stress than cause.

A survey conducted by Yougov concluded that in the past year 74% of people have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope due to stress. Worryingly, 37% said that they had experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings.

The causes of stress include the whole spectrum of life events including bereavement, divorce, debt, housing, health worries and social pressure (a particular concern for young people). However, another major cause is stress at work.

The main sources of stress in the workplace include:

  • Bullying
  • Excessive workload
  • Lack of support
  • Uncertainty of role and objectives
  • Redundancy and job uncertainty
  • Health concerns and capability
  • Childcare and flexible working issues

Stress not only impacts the individual but also affects the employer, with many businesses struggling to cope with sickness absence and covering staff.

Stress at work can also lead to a number of claims against an employer including:

  • Personal injury
  • Disability discrimination
  • Breach of contract
  • Unfair dismissal/Constructive Dismissal
  • Harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997

There are steps that employers take to help alleviate stress in the workplace, have a happier workforce and to also protect itself against costly litigation. These can include:

  • Update and implement policies and procedures – Including stress at work, sickness absence, equal opportunities, bullying and harassment and flexible working policies. Provisions should also be made within sickness absence policies for employees suffering from mental health issues.
  • Training – Training managers and staff on how to recognise stress and mental health issues in the workplace and how to manage it at an early stage will hopefully improve sickness absence.
  • Good management – This includes ensuring the workload is shared and delegated appropriately and that employees feel like that they can approach their manager at an early stage to raise concerns.
  • Consultation – Employees, employee representatives or unions should be consulted regarding organisational changes. Lack of information and uncertainty can cause stress to employees.
  • Workplace Interviews – Interviews after a period of sickness absence or performance review regarding an employee’s wellbeing will help identify any issues at an early stage. This will hopefully avoid any later disciplinary or capability action.
  • Stress Audit – Some employers conduct a stress audit to record and evaluate employees concerns regarding stress in the workplace.
  • Employee Survey – Conducting an employee survey to identify the needs and wishes of the workforce can help an organisation improve staff morale and retention.
  • Wellbeing Programme – A wellbeing programme could include hosting mindfulness sessions, workplace yoga, offering flexible working, gym membership subsidies, healthcare packages and volunteering programmes.
  • Support – This could be through an employee assistance programme, independent external counselling service or occupational health.

Employers taking a forward thinking and sensible approach to mental health and stress in the workplace will lead to a more reliable, secure and productive workforce.

If you would like advice on the above issues, please contact us on 029 2034 5511 or by email at employment@berrysmith.com.

Carys Strong – Solicitor