How to manage stress in the workplace

Stress can cause serious issues within the workplace. Companies should have a stress management policy in place in order to act quickly and effectively if an employee is found to be suffering from stress. It’s usually the case that the longer someone suffers from stress, the more serious the problem can become. As an employer, you should be able to recognise stress in the workplace and act without delay in order to help safeguard the health of employees suffering from stress.

A stress management policy should not focus on the cause of the stress, and no distinction should be made between stress caused be personal activities and stress caused by work activities. The focus of the policy should be on protecting the health of your employees and ensuring they receive the right level of support from you as their employer.

One of the problems with stress is that it has several different symptoms, and affects people in different ways. This means it can be challenging to identify stress. If an employee believes they are suffering from stress, they should always seek medical support from their doctor.

As an employer, you have a responsibility towards your employees. You could be exposed to a significant risk of litigation if you have allowed stress to arise when it was reasonably foreseeable, and therefore potentially avoidable. The employee could potentially claim under the Equality Act 2010 if their stress was serious enough to be classed as a disability.

It’s not just litigation that employers should worry about – stress will have an adverse effect on performance and productivity. It may also start to effect other employees who could find it difficult to work with a colleague suffering from stress.

As an employer, there are various ways you can try to minimise stress in the workplace:

  • Make sure you provide adequate training to all managers so they can manage and motivate staff, and identify stress among employees.
  • Send a clear message to your employees that you have a supportive attitude towards stress and you will support any employee found to be suffering from stress without any adverse consequences to their career.
  • Make sure employees feel in a safe environment and assure them that any reporting of stress will be kept completely confidential.
  • Have different options open to employees for reporting stress, e.g. directly to line managers, through appraisals, to HR manager etc.
  • Ensure managers handle employees who may be suffering with stress in an understanding and reasonable manner.

If an employee is suffering from stress, there are a number of ways an employer can help:

  • Provide support through an occupational health service
  • Refer the employee to an independent counselling service
  • Reduce the employee’s workload and/or working hours (this may be on a temporary basis only)
  • Investigate any internal causes of the stress and resolve the issues

If an employee complains of stress caused by internal issues in your company, you must take the allegation seriously and investigate the issue fully in order to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. Employers have an obligation to provide a safe working environment for all employees.