In 2015/16, there were more than 480,000 reported cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the UK. According to HSE, this equated to 11.7 million working days being lost as a result.
According to a report by employee benefits specialists Unum and Mental Health Foundation, Added Value: Mental health as a workplace asset, 73% of respondents had been through times at work where they felt stressed, overwhelmed or had trouble coping. As a result of these feelings, respondents reported that distress had left them less productive than they would like.
These staggering figures are proof that stress is taking its toll on the British workforce, impacting productivity, morale and health. Yet businesses are still failing to recognise and address the issue.
Liz Walker, HR Director, Unum UK, commented:
“While there is no magic solution to stop people worrying and reacting to undue pressure, managing stress in today’s workplace is absolutely paramount in order to maintain health and wellbeing. Employers should be providing support all year round, and communicate to their staff the care available via their employee benefits packages.”
To mark the start of Stress Awareness Month, Unum has identified tips to combat stress and anxiety at work.
Know Some of the Symptoms of a Stressed Employee
People react to stress in different ways. Be aware of some of the following ‘classic’ signs of stress:
- Emotional: sensitive to criticism, angry or irritable, loss of confidence/self-esteem, decreased motivation
- Cognitive: making mistakes, impaired judgement & decision making, poor concentration, indecisive
- Behavioural: working longer hours, not taking lunch breaks, avoiding going to work or taking unofficial time off, not laughing or joining in conversation at work, not performing/achieving targets
- Physical: frequent colds or infections, increased tiredness, rapid weight loss or gain, looking tired or unkempt
Think How Best to React
If you suspect a staff member is suffering from stress, you need to consider how best to approach the subject with them. Your employee is not obliged to tell you their personal problems, but there are some practical things you could do to manage the situation and support them:
- ask your employee for a quiet word somewhere private
- let them know that you’ve noticed that they’ve been acting a bit differently and ask if they’d like to talk to you about anything. Don’t try to diagnose or second guess your employee’s feelings, keep questions open-ended and neutral
- suggest that you could liaise with Human Resources and arrange an informal meeting for the three of you to chat. Ensure the meeting is non-threatening and provides an opportunity to identify what the problem is and discuss what support the business can offer
Identify the Source of the Stress
Work with the employee to identify the source of the stress, this can often be the result of a Manager’s behaviour.
There are specific management behaviours associated with the effective management of stress at work:
- Being respectful and responsible: managing emotions and having integrity
- Managing and communicating existing and future work: proactive work management, problem solving, participative/empowering
- Managing the individual within the team: personally, accessible, sociable, shows empathy
- Reasoning/Managing difficult situations: managing conflict, use of organisational resources, taking responsibility for resolving issues
Help Stop Stress-related Absence:
There are a number of supportive measures a company can do to help employees avoid a stress-related absence. You could consider:
- Training: on the job/shadowing, refresher training or a more formal resilience course
- Reducing pressure: consider what reasonable adjustments you can look at – for example, reduced hours, increased breaks, working from an office nearer home or even working from home!
- 3rd party help: refer your employee to your company’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), if you have one