Stress at Work is the second most common cause of long term sick in the UK. Statistics further suggest that Stress at Work is continuing to rise.

Failure to manage or prevent Stress in the Workplace can have long term damaging affect on staff retention and business continuity. It is often the case that once a member of staff has time off with Stress at Work that this can have a domino effect on the rest of a given team or department as they attempt to cover the work usually handled by the individual off with stress. This in turn can cause other members of staff to also suffer ill health.

Failure to manage Stress in the workplace can potentially give rise to legal proceedings being brought against the Employer and this can further increase costs.

1.Have regular 1-2-1 meetings or Appraisals

The age old adage ‘Prevention is better than Cure’ is central to preventing stress in the workplace. Once an individual has suffered with psychiatric illness, such as depression, then it is more likely than not that the individual will suffer a relapse in future.

It is important to have good lines of communication between staff and management whereby staff are able to report issues with workload or bullying and harassment without fear of reprimand. Having a formalised structure of regular review meetings to discuss work in a confidential setting can often avoid problems escalating.

It is also useful to have a system in place whereby staff are able to discuss matters informally with an individual other than their direct line manager in case there is a relationship issue between the employee and their direct line manager.

2.Review Internal Procedures and Targets

In many industries it is important to set targets or objectives. It gives the work force direction and can motivate staff particularly if there are incentives to reach targets.

However it has to also be recognised that targets can be a source of stress and targets have to be realistic and achievable. Staff should not fear that failure to meet a target may result in disciplinary. Obviously if a member of staff is repeatedly under-performing then that may warrant implementation of a Performance Improvement Plan but it is important that an Employer does not have unrealistic expectation.

3.Discuss The Cause Of The Stress with the Employee

If an employee is known to be suffering with stress related illness then it is important to discuss this with the employee at an early stage in a setting where the Employee feels comfortable discussing the issues.

An Employer should ascertain the cause of the stress and whether there are issues with workload or relationships within the workplace.

4.Utilise Occupational Health

Occupational Health can provide useful guidance from both a medical and practical perspective. If employees are suffering with stress at work, it is advisable to involve Occupational Health at an early stage so as to minimise any periods of absence and also to ensure that the employee feels supported.

5.Make Reasonable Adjustments

An Employer has legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments where an individual is suffering with a disability. Mental Ill Health can be classed as a disability. The duty to make reasonable adjustments is wider than just those under the Act however and an Employer are also subject to legal obligations in common law and contract.

Taking into account the legitimate needs of the business and obviously the needs of the individual, an employer should take reasonable steps to ensure that appropriate adjustments are made to the individual’s workload or workplace. 

Richard Coulthard is head of the stress at work team at Michael Lewin Solicitors