Stress and mental health are reported to be increasing problems in the workplace, causing absenteeism and disability discrimination claims. Since stress is defined as the 'adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them' it is not unusual for these problems to be caused or exacerbated by conditions in the workplace itself. Whilst most people benefit from a certain amount of pressure, which can keep them motivated and give a sense of ambition, when there is too much pressure they can become overloaded. Stress can affect physical as well as mental health, reduce productivity and lead to performance issues. Its psychological impact can lead to conditions such as anxiety and depression and stress, anxiety and depression can also increase the risk of like heart disease, back pain, gastrointestinal illnesses and other conditions. So, it is important to be able to recognise key issues and know how to help alleviate work related stress. ACAS has substantial guidance on this area and some of the key points they raise are set out below.
What can cause work related stress?
• Demands - when staff feel they cannot cope with the amount or type of work they are asked to do
• Control – when staff feel they have no say over how and when they do their work
• Lack of support – when staff feel they cannot talk about issues troubling them
• Relationships – when work relationships are not based on good behaviour and trust this can lead to problems, grievances and bullying
• Clarity of role – when staff don't know what is expected of them or how their work fits into the objectives of the organisation they may feel anxious.
• Change - staff can feel uncertain and insecure if change is not managed effectively.
What to watch out for: Signs that someone may be stressed include:
• Changes in their usual behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues.
• Changes in the standard of their work or focus on tasks.
• Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and having reduced interest in tasks they previously enjoyed.
• Changes in appetite and/or increase in smoking and drinking alcohol.
• Increase in sickness absences and/or turning up late to work.
How to help: Possible adjustments to the work schedule:
• Allow more breaks.
• Allow breaks to take place when needed, rather than a pre-determined schedule.
• Change their working day to start earlier or finish later.
• Allow them to use paid or unpaid leave for appointments related to their mental health.
• Offer a phased return to work after sick leave.
• Allow part-time working on a temporary basis (or permanently if that is what the they want).
How to help: Possible adjustments to role and responsibilities:
• Review and possibly (if agreed) change their workload.
• Re-assign duties they may be struggling with.
• If feasible consider temporarily transferring them to a different role in the organisation.
How to help: Possible adjustments to working environment:
• In open offices provide partitions between workspaces.
• Offer homeworking for some of the week.
• Position them as far away as possible from noisy machinery.
• Provide a private space for them to use when they need privacy.
How to help: Additional support and assistance:
• Assign a mentor or buddy to support and help them.
• Arrange a regular one-to-one with their manager to discuss and prioritise tasks.
• Provide equipment to enable them to work at home when they do not feel able to attend the workplace.
• Offer additional training on the skills and duties their job requires.