Stress has become a major factor in many people's lives as the recession has increased employment and financial worries. It is reported that one in five is currently suffering with stress, and the CIPD has reported that one in four claims they have moderate or poor mental health. The good news is that despite not being able to manage the recession, HR are able to help improve the effect of the workplace-related stress of their employees.
This year's Stress Awareness Day theme is Stressing the Positives. Did you realise that the small action of looking on the bright side whenever possible can actually help people cope better with stress?
The International Stress Management Association claims that there is evidence to suggest that most work –related stress is a result of poor management in the workplace.
The most common causes of stress in the workplace are;
• Poor management and lack of appreciation
• Poor communication between colleagues and lack of both positive and negative feedback
• Office politics
• Taking work home with you
• A boss who is unsympathetic
• Threat of redundancy
• Random interruptions from phones, e-mail, pagers etc
• Unclear career progression.
Of course, some stress is good: it keeps us ticking over and productive. However, it becomes an extremely destructive force when unmanaged. Stress-related claims are on the increase and employers must ensure they are doing all they can to prevent any claims against them.
Employees who are suffering from stress should be facilitated in readjusting their workload, and aided as much as possible to help prevent stress from occurring in the first place, and also to stop it from becoming an ongoing problem. Stress can contibute to absenteeism and a lack of productivity.
Employers should alos be aware of the legal aspect of stress. Employees who suffer with stress may have grounds for the following stress-related claims:
• Breach of contract – employers have a specific duty of care towards their employees
• Health and safety breaches – a stressed employee may claim that health and safety practices are not enforced or up to date thus their health is suffering as a result
• Whistle-blowing – for those who raise issues with health and safety practices
• Constructive dismissal- employees may feel that they have had no choice but to leave their jobs due to its stressful nature
• Disability discrimination – stress is potentially a mental and physical illness, which could fall in the scope of the Disability Discrimination Act
• Personal injury – employees could argue that their working environment caused injuries to their health and wellbeing.
Like all health issues, prevention is better than cure: HR can ensure all of the above are managed effectively.
Stress spotting and online resources
Unfortunately stress manifests itself in a number of ways. However, HR should ensure line managers are vigilant as it can have physical, emotional, behavioural and psychological effects on our bodies and lives. Some signs may include; worry, frustration, weight loss or gain, panic attacks, nausea, poor time management or social withdrawal. However there are lots of resources to point managers in the right direction to help them spot stress and provide support to employees.
There are a number of techniques you can recommend to colleagues (and use yourself) to help combat stress, such as these tips and other resources from the ISMA. also, in conjunction with National Stress Awareness Day, a new website aimed at the nation’s stressed out workforce has been launched. The new resource has been produced by the national anti-stigma programme Time to Change. It provides practical advice on how mental distress can be managed professionally at work. It uses a wide range of resources to show how line managers and employees can work together by being more flexible and supportive, including this mythbusters page from Shift for managers, which helps to break down the stigma about people with mental illness at work.