How to Protect Employees from Stress Induced Illness

BlogHR Advice Posted: Monday 6th February 2017 by

Most of us are aware of just how much illness and absenteeism costs the UK, with latest figures running into the tens of billions of pounds.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has recently shown, for the very first time, that stress is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence for both manual and non-manual workers. In addition, the figures on absenteeism don’t even tell the whole story. Think about presenteeism – the cost of lower productivity from employees attending work even when ill – and how likely stress related illnesses are to fall into this category.

Protect your employees from stress and safeguard your business

As with all illness, it’s the small and medium-sized businesses with their lower employee numbers that have the potential to be most disrupted by stress-related illnesses. So, it’s important to ensure your staff and line managers understand the causes and put prevention and management systems in place. There are steps you can take to protect employees from stress and its related illnesses in your workplace, and therefore minimise the impact to your business.

  1. Be aware of the main stressors in your organisation: work overload, poor relationships/bullying, unmanaged change, and lack of job control, are some of the most common.
  2.  Secondly, ensure you have a strong absence management process in place focused on early intervention and open communication. Immediate conversations with employees who are absent or just returned from an absence will make it much easier to identify potential employee stress. You may want to consider incorporating stress risk assessments into your HR policies.
  3. Encourage the drivers of good mental health in your employees. These may include: keeping physically active, eating well, and drinking moderately, as well as making time for family and friends, learning new skills, talking about your feelings, and of course, asking for help if they need it.
  4. Lastly, make sure line managers are trained to be aware of any signs of stress in their teams, particularly when the team or organisation are experiencing challenges such as change or performance issues.

Manage your processes well

All organisations are at risk of stress-related illness, as external factors are often a big contributor to an employee’s mental health.

Firstly, remember that whilst there is no specific law aimed at workplace stress, employers do have a duty to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their staff. Employees also have obligations to inform their employer if they feel the pressure of the role is putting them at risk of ill health.

If an employee comes to you with stress or illness-related issues, or if you notice changes in their behaviour, interaction or performance that might indicate stress, it’s important to have an immediate conversation with them:

  1. This needs to take place at an appropriate time and place. Also, assure the employee that any conversation related to their health is completely confidential.
  2. Listen carefully rather than make assumptions; encourage your employee to talk openly and honestly, using simple and non-judgemental questions until you better understand how they are feeling. Encourage your employee to seek help, either your company’s Employee Assistance Programme or through external organisations.
  3. Develop a plan of action in conjunction with your employee. This may include ways to identify their triggers for stress and how it should be managed, including who to contact and what support may be needed. It may also include options for alleviating stress, including flexible working, training or support, helping managing workload, or new communication/reporting channels. If there are specific areas of concern surrounding your employee, including high levels of absenteeism or poor performance, it’s important to address these early on.
  4. If your employee proceeds to long-term sick leave, make sure you have appropriate policies and procedures in place for managing this period, including regular contact, plus return to work interviews and plans.

For support on all of your HR matters, get in touch with our expert team.

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