Over the last few years, we have all seen a lot of change. For some, if not all of us, this has presented personal and professional challenges of varying kinds.
Whilst change can be good, and in turn some level of stress can be positive, it is important for employers to support their staff as far as possible throughout their employment.
Stress at work
What stress at work looks like can vary from person to person. However, it is not uncommon to see both an emotional and physical impact.
Although some employees thrive under a certain level of stress, too much stress can cause anxiety, depression, burnout while also presenting itself physically. For example, an individual might suffer from break outs and skin conditions or digestive conditions, such as IBS. In some cases, there can be more serious health impacts relating to heart health.
It can be hard to notice if and when a colleague is experiencing stress, but some behavioural changes, such as becoming withdrawn or, conversely, behaving in a more extroverted way can be some of the indicators.
New ACAS guidance
ACAS has recently published new guidance on managing stress at work. This sets out the practical considerations an employer can make, namely:
- Understanding the causes of stress, whether personal and/or professional
- Identifying the signs of stress
- Creating an environment where an employee feels able to talk to their manager, particularly when they are feeling stressed
- Understanding the law, in particular regarding health and safety and discrimination
- Carrying out risk assessments
- Protecting employees from discrimination
- Providing employees with support
- Signposting employees to additional support
- Working through processes, such as keeping in touch during sickness absence, return to work meetings and putting in place reasonable adjustments.
The new guidance also recognises the importance of employers creating a positive environment to help prevent work-related stress.
The responsibility of an employer
One of the first steps towards supporting your employees is creating an environment in which they feel able to talk about their concerns and any issues which may be causing them stress.
There are multiple possible causes of stress, for example capacity, deadlines, balancing work and home life. Providing employees with the security to voice their concerns in turn helps both parties to identify any issues that an employer can help to resolve.
Managers can further help their employees by making time to follow up with them, having listened to the concerns that they are raising. Working together to identify the cause of the stress can lead to a collaborative approach to tackling any problems and identifying changes that can be made to support employees and reduce their stress. Employees should feel supported.
Employers should also take proactive steps to prevent stress at work, for example by providing adequate training, listening and being responsive to concerns that are raised and by encouraging their employees to take their breaks and annual leave.
Getting it wrong
First and foremost, an employer should want to get this right so as they have a supported and motivated workforce, dedicated to their role and who enjoy coming to work.
Furthermore, the employer otherwise opens themselves up to risk regarding health and safety and also potential claims for discrimination. There is no minimum required length of service for an employee to raise concerns regarding health and safety or otherwise to bring a claim for disability discrimination.
Stress on its own is not classed as a medical condition. However, as mentioned above, it can be linked to other health concerns which in turn could be recognised as a disability. An employer should not treat an employee less favourably because of any such disability.
Who else can help
It is important to recognise that there are other support services available.
Signposting an individual to an Employee Assistance Programme or to their GP can help them get support from a medical professional. In some instances, it will be appropriate to seek support from Occupational Health, in order to identify whether the employer can make any reasonable adjustments.
Seeking HR or legal support, in terms of supportive policies, risk assessments regarding health and safety and providing training, can all help prevent stress.