This month is stress awareness month; it is an awareness campaign that has been running since 1992. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work related stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other demands placed on them”. We know from the latest research in the HSE annual statistics (published December 2021), that work-related stress is on the increase.
The total number of cases in 2020/21 was 822,000 and in fact, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health absences. The data also identifies that the main work factors causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety include work pressures such as tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of management support.
Definition of stress
The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as:
“The reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed on them. Stress arises when employees worry that they cannot cope.” According to the HSE stress is not an illness but a “state”. Stress may become an illness if it is excessive and prolonged and a mental and/or physical illness develops as a result. There is a big difference between positive pressure which can lead to increased productivity and the harmful negative effects of pressure.
Minimising stress in the workplace
As an employer, there are a number of practical things that you can do to minimise stress. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced stress management standards which provide step-by-step guidance on conducting a risk assessment. The HSE recommends that employers should undertake regular audits and should nominate a senior manager with health and safety responsibilities to cover matters. A proper risk assessment should be undertaken, and incidents of should be recorded and procedures implemented for dealing with these.
Absence due to work-related stress
If your employees send in sick notes with the words “stress” or “depression” on them, do ensure that you discuss the reasons for the absence fully in your return to work interview. Equally, if your employees complain about the issue, take such complaints seriously and find out the causes. Then monitor the situation and the employee carefully and ensure that proper steps are taken to manage this and to ease the situation. In addition, having a conversation with your employees about how they can better manage their work-life balance can be useful to determine the cause of the problems. Failure to do so may not only mean that you lose a tribunal case but that you are also at risk for claims for damages for psychiatric injury.
For further guidance on this topic please contact us by email or call to speak to me.