April is ‘Stress Awareness Month’, which has been promoted by the Stress Management Society since 1992. In that time, wellbeing movements have become more visible, and mental health awareness has increased. The discussion is moving in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go to improve our relationship with stress, and reduce work related stress. The results of the CIPD Health and Well-being at Work Survey 2019 were released this month, and provide useful insights to help us consider how to better manage work related stress absence.
Stress places immense demands on employees’ physical and mental health and wellbeing, impacting their behaviour, performance and relationships with colleagues. It’s also a major cause of long-term absence from work, with 37% of respondents seeing an increase in work related stress absence.
Why are employees stressed? – Top three causes
The CIPD survey found that the top three causes of work related stress are:
- excessive workloads/volume of work;
- management style; and
- relationships at work.
For a quick summary of the key findings, you can view a useful infographic here.
While some of these findings are correlative with what we ‘expect’ when we think about stress and its causes, they provide HR and management teams with a fresh opportunity to initiate change in how they manage work related stress.
Management style was identified as one of the top causes of stress in teams. This is further explained when you consider that only half of respondents said managers have been trained to manage stress, or appreciate the importance of wellbeing initiatives.
People management responsibilities are a key part of managerial roles, but these skills are often overlooked when technical experts or highly qualified professionals are promoted into line management positions.
Management style clearly plays a significant role in maintaining the wellbeing of your whole team. Ensure that your managers receive the relevant training they need to be able to support their staff effectively, and cope with their people management responsibilities, including how they manage work related stress.
What can we do to manage work related stress in our teams?
The CIPD suggests four tips for managers to address issues of stress and wellbeing at work:
- Get to know your team better – dedicate time to new starter induction processes, and maintain positive communication throughout the employee life-cycle through regular one-to-one feedback sessions.
- Lead by example to promote healthy working habits – e.g. take regular breaks, utilise all of your annual leave, avoid sending emails outside of work times, and take an interest in wellbeing activities and exercise outside of work to reduce your own stress levels.
- Review job design and workloads with your team regularly to ensure that work is being distributed proportionately, and to identify any roles that may be overworked.
- Assess your management style – identify your own strengths and weaknesses to influence your future development. You can identify your management style, and areas for improvement by using the HSE Management style assessment tool here.
By addressing these four areas, managers can support their teams, manage work related stress more effectively, and stay on top of their own stress levels. You can read the full guide here.
Signs of stress in teams
If an employee is acting differently, it could be a sign of stress. You could see a change in work performance, behaviour and mood, withdrawal from others at work, aggressive or other out-of-character behaviour and/or it can manifest in physical symptoms (e.g. headaches, tiredness, sweating, weight change etc.).
How to help
There are many approaches organisations can take to manage work related stress, and wellbeing. Employers have a legal duty to approach stress management proactively. This means focusing on prevention and early intervention, not just responding when a problem becomes significant or when someone goes on sick leave.
Take action to manage work related stress:
- Conduct a stress-risk assessment for any employee saying they feel stressed or showing signs of stress, or for any employee with a self-certificate or fit note referring to work related stress.
- Audit your practices, policies, procedures and systems to ensure that you are providing a work environment (…that’s both the physical and emotional environment), that protects the wellbeing of your staff to try and prevent stress.
- Train your staff and managers to spot signs of stress in themselves and others in their team. Equip them with the skills and tools to take early action to support one another.
- Encourage regular communication within your teams and between managers and employees to discuss ideas on how best to raise awareness and promote wellbeing. Find ways to support your staff so that they can enjoy their work, and perform at their best.
Good health and wellbeing can be a core enabler of employee engagement and organisational performance, so addressing stress in your workplace will benefit both your staff and your business.
Does a GP fit note saying ‘stress’ mean an employee has a disability?
The short answer to that is no, not necessarily if it’s in isolation. However, it is advisable to be mindful of the possibility of this.
As managers and HR professionals we are not medical experts, so the only definitive way of knowing if an employee has a disability is:
- if they tell you (for example this could be during a recruitment process, or capability process, but it could be an informal comment heard by a manager); and/or
- this is confirmed by a medical professional (e.g. GP or occupational medical assessor).
Employers have a legal duty to:
- make reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability or disabilities; and
- protect against discrimination arising in consequence of a disability.
What this means is that, with the employee, you should explore ways to support and help them perform at work and prevent any unfavourable treatment.
In disability related cases, employment tribunals are looking for employers to demonstrate that their actions are ‘proportionate to a legitimate aim’, rather than the lesser test of ‘within a range of reasonable responses’.
What can you do to help manage work related stress?
- Start by acknowledging to the employee that you are aware of their medical condition(s) and, seek confirmation if necessary. (If the employee is absent from work, you’ll need to maintain a sensitive balance of keeping in contact yet giving the employee space to recuperate.)
- Whether they are at work or off work on sickness or other absence, your next action should be to adopt a genuine problem-solving approach to explore any potential reasonable adjustments (i.e. physical working environment, duties, hours, absence policies and trigger levels, redeployment options etc.) in order to facilitate their return to work and/or performance at work. Conducting a stress-risk assessment will help to identify root causes and potential solutions.
- Be aware that absences for similar reasons may be linked and seek medical input (i.e. a GP Report or occupational medical assessment) to inform your decision-making on reasonable adjustments.
- Review policies and practices to check whether you have a legitimate aim and whether this aim can be achieved by a different approach.
As we have established, employers have an obligation to manage work related stress by focusing on stress prevention and early intervention, so look at proactive ways that you can support all of your employees.
If you’d like any support on managing stress at work, conducting a stress risk assessment, or if you have an employee matter you would like advice on, please contact our team of HR Consultants on 01271 859267 or firstname.lastname@example.org