Why Should You Prevent Stress at Work?

Are your employees stressed? Are they taking time off work when you really need them at work? Or are they just not performing as well as they could be? If so, it could be that they are suffering from stress at work.

There are many reasons why you need to take steps to prevent your employees from suffering stress while at work. Apart from the obvious reasons – stressed employees will not perform their job well, if at all – there are compelling legal reasons and consequences for employers that fail to protect their employees from extreme or prolonged stress at work. This article looks at how you can prevent stress in your employees and maintain a happy, healthy, productive place to work.

The common law duty of care, which is implied into every contract of employment, incorporates the duty to take care of your employees’ mental health as well as their physical health and safety. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also obliges all employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all your employees as far as is reasonably practicable. ‘Health’ in this context includes mental health, which, of course, can be damaged by excessive or prolonged workplace stress.

Employers who allow working practices that are likely to cause employees injury to health (including mental health) risk claims being brought against them for personal injury, constructive dismissal and possible disability discrimination in the event that stress leads to a long-term mental impairment.

Prevention is better than cure

You might like to provide your employees with support, such as a confidential counselling service, if they experience stress at work. While it is good to do this, you really need to focus your attention on preventing workplace stress in the first place.

You can begin by talking to your staff or trade unions, to identify problem areas. Working with your employees, look at current working practices to see if any aspects of the work environment put excessive pressure or demands on any particular employees and if any individuals are vulnerable to stress. Risk assessments should, as a matter of course, take into account risks to your employees’ mental health.

What causes stress at work? 

The most common causes of workplace stress include excessive workloads, over-long working hours, lack of support or insufficient training, bullying, difficult working relationships at work, feelings of isolation and fear of change. Key factors that contribute to stress are the feeling of not being in control and not having much say in how the work is done. Taking these factors into account, there are many courses of action that you can take to prevent or reduce workplace stress. Here are some suggestions for each situation.

Tackling excessive workloads:

  • Review each job and the way it is done with a view to introducing improvements where possible
  • Cut out all unnecessary or duplicated work
  • Ensure workloads, targets and deadlines are realistic
  • Talk to your employees to see if the demands being made on them are within their individual coping resources
  • Give individuals more control over their work where possible.

Managing working hours:

  • If there is evidence of pressure on employees to consistently work long hours, you will need to take action to change the culture of your business
  • Make it the responsibility of each line manager to ensure that every employee restricts his or her working hours to a reasonable level and takes regular breaks and holidays. Set targets for improvement if you need to
  • Offer your employees flexibility around the number of hours they work and the times they work
  • Encourage employees to achieve a work-life balance and respect those who wish to limit their working hours to a reasonable level.

Providing support and training:

  • Recognise that individuals are all different in the amount of support and training they need
  • Set time aside to support employees when needed, for example after a period of absence or when someone has been promoted
  • Give employees sufficient coaching and training to enable them to perform their job effectively and confidently
  • Offer employees training in personal stress management.

Preventing bullying:

  • Implement an anti-bullying/harassment policy and complaints procedure. Make sure that everyone knows that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated and that all instances of such behaviour will be viewed as a disciplinary matter
  • Take prompt action whenever there is any evidence of bullying behaviour, first to investigate it and second to put a stop to it
  • Take all complaints seriously and act on them promptly, always following your procedure to avoid problems down the line.

Encouraging two-way communication:

  • Make sure that all employees know how their jobs fit in with the business as a whole
  • Ensure that staff are clear about what is expected of them in terms of objectives, job responsibilities and work standards
  • Provide regular feedback to all employees on their performance
  • Take positive steps to ensure that employees are informed, involved and, where appropriate, consulted, especially during periods of change
  • Provide a clear route for employees to raise genuine workplace problems and make sure that everyone knows there will be no recriminations for those who do so.

Stress at work can cost your business a great deal, in terms of lost productivity. Your managers need to be vigilant to the signs of employee stress, since every individual is different in how they cope. A company that is free from complaints of workplace stress is not necessarily one where there are no stress problems. It could be that employees will not admit to stress because they feel embarrassed about it, feel guilty or fear that they will be seen as weak. Workplace stress is a serious issue, so you need to look at how to address it in a positive and constructive manner, so that you can prevent and reduce it wherever you can.

For help on meeting your legal obligations, call Quadriga on 0118 929 9920 or click here to contact us.

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