Stress Awareness Month has been running since April 1992 to help raise awareness of the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. In light of this, we will be posting a 3-part series this month on Stress & Sickness Absence, Burnout and the Impact of COVID and rounding off with, Positive Practical Steps you can take, as both an employer and an employee to ensure Workplace Wellbeing. 

With the COVID-19 Pandemic, our work and family life have been changed beyond belief and with that has sadly come a rise in poor mental health including depression, anxiety, and stress. An annual Health & Wellbeing at Work Report conducted by the CIPD in 2020 found that 60% of organisations reported an increase in common mental health conditions with 37% seeing an increase in stress-related absence. In 2019/20, according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), 17.9 million working days were lost to stress, anxiety, or depression.

The HSE defines work-related stress, depression, or anxiety as the ‘harmful reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. Stress can place immense demands on employees’ physical and mental health and affect their behaviour, performance, and relationships with colleagues. It’s a major cause of long-term absence from work and knowing how to manage the factors that can cause work-related stress is key to managing people effectively. Stress can be caused by a number of factors including (but not limited to):

  • excessive workload
  • pressures to meet deadlines
  • poor communication
  • job insecurity
  • lack of training, information, and managerial support
  • poor working relationships or bullying
  • new work-related demands or challenges due to homeworking as a result of COVID-19
  • poor work-life balance due to homeworking as a result of COVID-10
  • non-work factors such as relationship, health or family issues

Stress affects everyone differently and what may cause one person stress would not affect another person in the same way. As an Employer you have a duty of care for the wellbeing of your staff, whether that be in an office environment or remotely for those working from home, to mitigate stress levels.

By keeping open lines of communication within your team and being able to spot the signs of stress either in a colleague or yourself means you can hopefully take action quickly and effectively. Some examples include:

  • high staff turnover
  • more reports of stress and/or sickness absence
  • absenteeism
  • inconsistent or declining performance
  • mood swings / increased emotional reactions such as being more tearful, sensitive, or aggressive
  • being withdrawn and less engaged with work and colleagues
  • loss of motivation, commitment, and confidence 
  • feeling nervous, overwhelmed, indecisive, or unable to concentrate
  • having difficulty sleeping

If you think that you, a colleague, or someone in your team is suffering from stress or poor mental health, encourage them to talk to someone, whether that be their line manager, HR department, trade union representative, GP, or their occupational health team / employee assistance programme (if applicable / available). It’s important to be proactive and focus on prevention and early intervention, rather than responding when a problem becomes significant or when someone goes off on sick leave.

Some ways in which you could try to combat and prevent stress at work are:

  • Redistributing workload / reviewing duties and responsibilities where necessary
  • Ensuring employees are trained and supported to do their jobs effectively
  • Prioritising mental health in the workplace and encouraging employees to speak openly
  • Ensure work design and culture drive positive mental health outcomes
  • Provide tools and support such as EAP’s, especially through periods of change and uncertainty
  • Carry out stress risk assessments
  • Training line managers to manage stress within their team (as well as having someone look out for them too)
  • Utilising Occupational Health Services when further advice and support is needed in order to implement reasonable adjustments

For help and support, the following links may be useful:

This April, in support of Stress Awareness month, let’s be proactive in taking steps to reduce the stigma around stress by talking openly with friends, family and colleagues; sharing the coping mechanisms and methods you have found helpful and most importantly, look after yourself.

Keep your eyes peeled for our blog next week on Burnout…