Is managing employee stress a health and safety issue?

Tuesday April 9, 2019

Absolutely yes! There is a legal duty for you to protect your staff from stress in the workplace. The basic way to do this is by undertaking a stress risk assessment and putting control measures in place.

Each year for nearly 30 years, April has been designated “Stress Awareness Month”. And the idea is making some headway. We are all becoming far more aware of mental health issues. And whether it is Prince William FaceTiming Lady Gaga to talk about it, Premier League footballers candidly discussing depression or other high-profile figures opening up, the subject is becoming less taboo.

Stress isn’t a mental illness in itself, but it can lead to serious conditions like anxiety or depression. These are bad news for individual sufferers, but also for you as a business owner or manager. A toxic culture, absenteeism, human error and poor productivity could all follow on from having stressed-out workers.

And because of the legal obligations, in worst case scenarios, you could even find yourself prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or land in an employment tribunal.

How can you manage stress in the workplace?

As is so often the case, prevention is better than cure. And when you are carrying out that stress risk assessment we mentioned earlier (you only need to set this in writing if you have more than five employees), you should consider six underlying influences on stress levels:

  • The demands of the job – For example the workplace environment, the workload and work hours.
  • Individual control – The level of autonomy employees have over how they work.
  • Support – What resources and frameworks does your organisation have in place to help individuals.
  • Relationships – How well people work together. How you guard against issues like harassment or bullying.
  • Team roles – Do employees understand their role and are roles designed so that they don’t cause unnecessary conflict.
  • Change – Is organisational change managed smoothly and communicated well.

Putting processes in place to manage stress in the workplace

Once you have considered the risks from all of the above, you will want to put processes (backed up by written policies and procedures) in place to manage them. In many cases, good general workplace management will feed into minimising the risk of stress. For example, well-organised workflows, realistic deadlines and a pleasant workplace culture.

There will be other more specific initiatives you can introduce, too, like stress-management and well-being programmes. Many companies offer Employee Assistance Programmes as part of a benefit package. These do not cost the earth and will often have some kind of specialist third-party support like counselling or coaching for assisting with issues like stress. If you do not have one, talk to us because we can help with these.

Mental health first aiders

One particularly interesting approach is to train up mental health first aiders in your organisation. It’s a legal requirement, and accepted as normal, for organisations of a certain size to have physical health first aiders. So, with as many as five million working people thought to be experiencing mental health issues like stress-related anxiety, why not mental health first aiders?

We are not talking about a replacement for trained mental health professionals. Mental health first aiders can help with early intervention – spotting issues before they develop and assisting staff in getting the right professional support. They may also be the first line of support in a crisis. The very presence of mental health first aiders in your business will help to raise awareness of issues like stress, and demonstrate that you take it seriously.

The introduction of mental health first aiders is actually being debated in parliament, and it’s thought at some point will become enshrined in law. So embracing mental health first aiders now could be a forward-thinking move. The Health and Safety Dept, offers mental health first aid training at locations around the UK. To find out more about this training or for help with managing stress in the workplace, get in touch with us.

Preventing People Problems

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