Battling the workplace stress epidemic

We originally published this report in May’s edition of Dealer Support.

Stress awareness month has been observed every April since 1992 and, with increasing emphasis being placed on easing mental health issues and supporting general well-being, it is arguably more important than ever that businesses acknowledge the pitfalls of stress in the workplace.

The UK’s leading employee assistance programme (EAP) provider, Health Assured published key statistics and advice at the start of the month outlining the true costs of employee stress and how to manage it. In 2017 Health Assured received 14,182 stress-related calls, half of which were from people over 40 years-old, with 15% from under 30s. Research suggests that this is due to younger people being more open and better educated when it comes to mental health, as opposed to older generations considering it a more taboo topic.

63% of the calls came from women, 37% from men, and May was the busiest month for stress-related calls. In previous years, January has regularly been the busiest month but May 2017 saw domestic terror attacks in Manchester and Westminster which had such an emotional impact on the nation that stress levels rose enormously.

Health Assured’s CEO, David Price, believes – with the support of his company’s research – that high stress is commonly caused by overwhelming work pressure and that it must be better controlled. “Stress will have a significant, detrimental impact on the workplace as its effects lead to unhealthy employees, low productivity, an increase in workplace disputes and higher absenteeism,” he explains. “Proactively taking steps to manage stress will help reduce these effects and will also help employers meet their legal duty to ensure the health, safety and well-being of employees.”

David states there are various steps that can be taken to better manage workplace stress; the first is to develop an awareness of the causes of stress and their effects on workers. Employees who feel over-stressed are risking their own health and should be provided with training or awareness initiatives to teach them how to cope better. Managers can be trained in how to spot stress in their staff and how to ensure they appear approachable for employees needing help. “Although they are unlikely to become experts, and each individual will differ in how they project stress, usual signs of stress include changes in behaviour, the standard of work and the employee’s attitude towards tasks,” David explains.

Managers suspecting that an employee is suffering from excessive stress are encouraged to speak to that member of staff to discover what exactly is affecting their mood – otherwise the manager might fall into the trap of making assumptions about the cause of that stress leading to unnecessary or detrimental decisions being made. Employees should also be encouraged to approach management themselves to disclose their issues.

Where the cause of the stress has previously been identified as work-related, small changes to reduce the pressure on the employee will help manage this,” says David. “This could include, for example, temporarily reducing workloads, providing additional support or reviewing deadlines. Stress, by itself, is not a mental condition that is classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. It can, however, lead to further medical conditions. Proactively talking to employees with stress, and providing workplace support, will ensure stress is managed before it progresses.”