Stress Awareness: What You Should Know

image showing stress awareness month in april

Stress Awareness Month has taken place every April since 1992 to raise public awareness about the signs and causes of stress as well as provide guidance on how sufferers can manage and improve their condition.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to soaring levels of stress, anxiety and depression in the UK population. Restrictions on our movements, reduced income, ill health and financial difficulties have contributed to a stress epidemic.

As an employer, what do you need to know about stress in the workplace? How do you spot the early signs and what are your legal responsibilities for supporting employees who are struggling with their mental health?

Signs of Workplace Stress

A change in behaviour and attitude could be a red flag indicating that one of your team is feeling stressed. Recognising the signs of this debilitating condition is crucial because acting early can significantly reduce the impact of pressure and make it easier to manage. If any of your employees show these signs, be sure to check in with them and identify any potential stress triggers in their work:

  • a sudden increase in sickness absence
  • arriving late to work
  • appearing twitchy or “on edge”
  • mood swings
  • being withdrawn
  • being overly emotional
  • diminished motivation and confidence

As well as signs of stress in individuals, managers should look out for changes in how a team behaves and performs. An increase in the number of arguments, a higher staff turnover, more complaints, reports of stress and higher than average sickness absence could all indicate that your team is experiencing an unhealthy level of stress.

How to Spot Stress in Remote Workers

COVID-19 has transformed the way we live and work. More people than ever before are working from home and many businesses plan to continue some form of hybrid working in the long term. Remote working presents unique challenges for employers seeking to monitor and support the mental health and wellbeing of their people. How can you spot stress in employees who you don’t see in person every day?

  • Schedule regular video check-ins. Be alert to changes in your employee’s attitude or behaviour. Has a once extroverted team member become quiet and withdrawn? Does your employee look physically tired or unwell?
  • Monitor working hours. If an employee is routinely sending emails or taking calls outside of office hours, this could be a sign of an unhealthy level of stress.
  • Encourage communication. There’s no point denying that the current situation is anxiety-making and uncertain. Acknowledge this and embed a culture of open communication and support so that people feel able to talk about stress.
  • Implement wellbeing initiatives. Develop a wellbeing programme that is relevant to the remote environment. This will help you to identify who needs support with stress-related issues. For example, send a weekly survey to gauge your team’s wellbeing.
  • Monitor changes in communication patterns. If a once vocal employee starts communicating less with colleagues, this could be a sign that they are withdrawing and need help managing their stress.

The Causes of Stress at Work

People have very different stress triggers — what causes high levels of anxiety in one employee may have no impact on another. However, some common causes of workplace stress include:

  • feeling unable to cope with the demands of the job
  • personality clashes and conflict between employees
  • feeling overwhelmed by the combination of personal and work commitments
  • lack of opportunities for career progression
  • too rapid progression or increases in responsibility
  • feeling “in the dark” about changes in the company or with their role
  • a lack of information and support
  • long work hours
  • low pay

The pandemic has shrunk the divide between our personal and work lives. For some, this may have eased stress — no rush hour commute and no need to see the workplace bully every day. For others, homeworking could have introduced new stressors — trying to juggle childcare and work simultaneously or finding it hard to switch off from work at the end of the day.

Employers should be aware of the specific environment in which their people are working and the potential for stress this may cause.

Your Legal Responsibilities as an Employer

Employers have a legal duty to protect their people from harm to their mental health, just as they do to keep employees safe from physical injury or ill-health. There are two key pieces of legislation covering stress in the workplace and an employer’s responsibilities.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 places a legal duty on employers to protect their people from stress by completing a risk assessment and implementing safety measures to reduce any hazards identified. Businesses with fewer than five employees do not need to produce a written document but they must still undertake a risk assessment.

Under The Equalities Act 2010 mental health may be classed as a disability. Employers have a legal responsibility to make “reasonable adjustments” so that employees who have a disability can fulfil their role.

Providing relevant and sufficient training is crucial for the effective management of workplace stress. Howlett Health and Safety Services provide an online Stress Awareness training course that will equip your staff with the knowledge and skills to identify and manage stress in themselves and others. The course covers all relevant legislation.

We can also provide expert advice on conducting risk assessments to help you identify stress risks and implement strategies to reduce those risks.

Get in touch today for a free quote and 15-minute consultation.

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