Publish date

30 August 2019

Stressed about stressed?

Unfortunately, it seems that work is intertwined with stress.  Despite stress at work not being a new concept, some of the top commentators are saying that we need a better understanding of our fight or flight response, which triggers stress, to help organisations deal with impacts of stress on their employees and business.

The fight or flight response is a remnant from our hunter-gatherer days but, unlike work, it has not evolved and so is unsuited to handle the demands placed on us from work.  This means that when we are faced with stressful situations, our anxiety levels are further increased because we cannot disperse the effect as well we could do by running away from a predator.  Unchecked, this can result in time off and potentially become a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Despite the high profile that mental health and stress is getting in the media recently, a report from MetLife found that, of those business surveyed:

  • 45% of HR professionals surveyed believed that the culture of their organisation caused employees to suffer from stress
  • 42% of employees said their job was either ‘stressful’ or ‘extremely stressful’ down from 47% in 2014
  • 57% of employees said that their job was becoming “more stressful”, up from 52% in 2014.

Mental health is a bit of a minefield and we can sympathise with the 84% of organisations who said, in the survey, that they felt there was no clarity on best practices to address mental health issues in the workplace.  To help, we have given some suggestions below, including a link to the ACAS website for stress at work.

Our thoughts

Below we have set out some helpful tips on how to manage stress at work:

  • Create a stress at work policy which gives both employees and managers alike a clear understanding and expectation of what stress is and how to tackle it.  This should be dovetailed in to any ill-health capability procedure and/or equality policy
  • Provide training to ensure that managers have a good understanding of what stress and anxiety are, how they work and how the body reacts to them.  Additionally, you could consider resilience training for your staff
  • Create a culture where employees feel safe to talk about their mental health.  There may be instances where those mental health issues constitute a disability and so you need to be prepared to consider reasonable adjustments
  • Consider a wellbeing strategy.  There are various wellbeing strategies which could be as simple as offering healthy eating in the kitchen/meeting spaces or initiatives/perks like gym memberships or fitness classes.  Alternatively, you could consider a slightly more comprehensive programme.  Before you embark on this, take a pole to determine which wellbeing programme your employees would prefer and which would provide the most benefit.  From there, you can choose how to deliver the programme, whether that would be internally or externally.  However, you must ensure that you are able to measure any success, such as a drop in ill-health absences, otherwise, it would be a waste of time and money with no results
  • Implement a flexible working policy.  All employees with 26 weeks or more continuous service are entitled to make a flexible working request under statute anyway and with statistics like 39% (of 115 companies) of those who work flexibly saying they have benefitted from better mental health, why wouldn’t you consider it.

By looking after your employee’s mental health, you are likely to:

  • Increase staff productivity
  • Reduce stress, which in turn would minimise the number of individuals and the number of days taken for ill health
  • Reduce the likelihood for claims of discrimination etc
  • Decrease your staff turnover
  • Increase staff engagement.

We appreciate that not all of the above are realistic to implement, depending on the size and nature of your organisation.  However, if there is one tip that we can offer that can start you off, it is to communicate openly, empathetically and clearly with your employees.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this article or anything contained therein such as putting together a stress or flexible working policy or seeking the assistance of a health and wellbeing specialist, please do not hesitate to contact any of the employment team.

Here are a few more articles which you may find useful:

ACAS – Dealing with stress in the workplace

Wildgoose team activities – The 2019 flexible working survey

The Guardian – ‘Miserable staff don’t make money’: the firms that have switched to a four day week

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