We all have those days when we’re not feeling great. Maybe we get a little grumpy, or we feel tired for no apparent reason. In many cases this can be put down to an ‘off day’ and we soon recover.
But for some it’s not quite that simple.
The HSE estimate that 0.5 million workers suffer from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. The Labour Force Survey for 2014/15 estimated that mental ill-health and work-related stress accounts for a massive 35% of all work-related illnesses and causes 9.9 million lost working days each year, the average absence being 23 days. Stress, therefore, is a major contributor to the £9.3 billion that ill-health is estimated to cost our economy each year, making this a topic that concerns us all.
The HSE defines ‘Stress’ as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed upon them.” The key word here is ‘excessive’ – we all have demands placed upon us, from family life as well as from work, yet we cope. It’s when this becomes excessive that we struggle. And it’s different for everyone.
Stress can be caused in a number of ways. Firstly, individuals may have difficulties with relationships at work. Perhaps they are experiencing bullying or harassment. Alternatively, there could be an issue at home – child care arrangements, the stress of commuting, sick relatives and so on all cause natural anxieties that can build up over time.
The way the business is organised can have an effect. If the organisation demands long working hours, has erratic shift patterns, or if there is little management support and a culture of fear then workers may be more likely to show signs of stress. The job itself may be an issue too. Workload and time pressures, or even a lack of work and boredom can be a problem, as can a lack of clarity over job roles or a lack of control over one’s job.
People can help themselves to relieve stress by having weekends, seeing friends or going on holiday, but what can the employer do to help?
A good employer won’t expect you to ‘leave your family stuff at the door’. Instead, they will understand that each individual has their own unique capacity to cope and that work and family commitments may contribute in equal measure to the load that is being carried by any individual. A good employer will have sound systems of management in place and will respond appropriately when it is recognised that a member of the team is struggling for whatever reason. Not everything is within the employer’s control of course, but the employer still needs to support those who are struggling. Not only will that help the employee face a challenging time, but it will send a clear message to the rest of the workforce that the employer cares about them. The knock-on effect may well be a more loyal and productive workforce, not to mention a healthier one. In any event, isn’t it simply the right thing to do?
This doesn’t have to be costly. There are many things that can be done to help reduce the chances of people going sick with stress. So, here are some of our top tips:
- Identify if you have a problem. Talk to your staff, run a survey, have a confidential reporting service, or look at your sickness absence data. You could also examine the reasons why people leave from what they say in exit interviews. Engagement is key here – just letting people know you’re interested is an effective way of motivating staff.
- Speak to any manager. Remind staff that they can speak to any manager if they feel stressed, not just their ‘boss’. It may be the line manager who is the perceived problem, so allow employees an option here.
- Give clarity on working hours. Make sure that agreed working hours are achievable and realistic. There will be peaks and troughs, but don’t make long hours the norm and certainly don’t create an atmosphere that suggests that working all hours is expected.
- Match skills to the job. Ensure that workers’ skills and abilities are matched to the demands of the job. Workers can be underused or overstretched – the right balance needs to be achieved so as to make best use of available skills.
- Give back control. Where appropriate, give workers greater control over the pace of their work and encourage the use of skills and initiative.
- Provide support. Develop management systems that enable and encourage managers to support their staff and employees to support their colleagues.
- Give pats on the back. Give employees regular and constructive feedback – nothing works better than giving a pat on the back or support in the form of extra direction where needed.
- Eliminate the unacceptable. Put in place policies to prevent or resolve unacceptable behaviour such as bullying and harassment. Make sure those with responsibility for others are equipped to deal with unacceptable behaviour.
- Inform, inform, inform. Give workers clear information about their role and responsibilities and allow them to raise concerns about any uncertainties they may have. Provide timely information on organisational change so as to enable employees to understand the reason for the changes.
- Consult with staff on working conditions and proposed changes – not only will they get used to the idea but they will probably offer constructive input.
There are many more initiatives that can help to manage stress and keep your staff mentally fit and well, motivated and productive. Griffin Safety Training can support with training and advice in this area, so why not give us a call or drop us a line for a no-obligation chat?