Since 1992 April has been designated Stress Awareness Month. In recognition the HSE has used some hard-hitting numbers to emphasise the importance of tackling mental health in the workplace:
• 74% of UK adults say they have been overwhelmed and unable to cope
• 51% of work-related ill health arises from stress, depression and anxiety
• 55% of all working days lost are due to a mental health issue.
Analysis suggests that the annual cost to UK business arising from mental health issues is currently in the region of a staggering £45bn, a figure that has been rising year on year.
Whilst many companies appear to be increasing their spend on wellness programmes, the numbers suggest there is still some way to go if the human and financial consequences that are so evident are to be adequately addressed.
The HSE is taking this opportunity to remind employers of its important guidance on tackling stress (defined as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”) in the workplace which can be found here.
Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work. S.2 Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a general duty on all employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. R.3 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees and to put in place appropriate and effective control measures.
When assessing and managing risk, the HSE strongly recommends that employers adopt its “Management Standards Approach”.
These Standards cover six key areas of work design that can increase the risk of work-related stress if not properly managed:
1. Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment.
2. Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work.
3. Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.
4. Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and deal with unacceptable behaviour.
5. Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles.
6. Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.
Employers should then implement the following five-step risk assessment process:
1. Identify the stress risk factors.
2. Decide who might be harmed and how.
3. Evaluate the risks.
4. Record your findings.
5. Monitor and regularly review.
This will enable you to put in place effective systems that will be the bedrock of a safer and healthier working environment.
Some additional steps that you can adopt to alleviate workplace stress might include:
• implementing an effective framework to detect the early signs of mental health issues
• training line managers to spot the early warning signs of mental health issues and to manage any issues sensitively
• communicating with employees to understand their issues properly and tailor support to them. Remember issues affect individuals differently
• encouraging greater social interaction to bring employees together
• recognising employees’ achievements and make them feel valued
• encouraging workplace wellness e.g. through exercise and healthy eating
• a refresh to make the workplace a more uplifting working environment
• flexible and/or home working.
It is very apparent that mental wellbeing in the workplace is a key concern for the HSE and it can only be a matter of time before enforcement action is taken against employers who are not seen to be actively managing the risks.