Employment

Today marks National Stress Awareness Day, an annual initiative run by the charity Mind, which aims to encourage people to consider how they can improve their well-being and highlight the advice and support available on managing stress.

Stress is something that everyone will experience at different times in their life, to varying extents. It can be caused by all manner of factors from day-to-day worries such as the burden of paying the bills at the end of a long month, to relationship issues or work pressures.

The Health and Safety Executive’s latest annual report for 2018-19 shows that 602,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety which is up from 595,000 in 2017-18.

Impact of stress in the workplace

It is well known that high levels of stress within a workforce can have negative impacts on productivity, attendance, morale and employee well-being.

CIPD’s annual survey on health and well-being at work highlights the correlation between employee-absence and stress, showing stress to be the third most common cause of short-term absences and second most common cause of long-term absences.

The most common cause of long-term absence is mental ill-health, which in itself can be intrinsically linked to stress at work. If employees are struggling to manage feelings of stress, it may lead to illnesses such as anxiety and depression. For tips on promoting mental well-being in the workplace, see our previous blog.

Stress alone, without something more, is unlikely to be a classed as a disability under the Equality Act. However, employers should be live to the fact that someone who appears to be stressed at work; who is taking more time off work than usual; or whose behaviour has changed in the workplace may be suffering from an underlying health problem which could be a disability. If this is the case, a failure to tackle the problem and consider reasonable adjustments risks a disability discrimination claim.

Employers therefore have an invested interest in ensuring workplace stress is managed and there is an open culture that allows employees to feel comfortable discussing stress. CIPD’s survey reports that there has been ‘a gradual increase’ in the proportion of employers trying actively to reduce workplace stress. However, there is still work to do, as a third of employers reporting increased levels of stress-related absence over the past year are not taking steps to address the problem. With this in mind:

What can employers be doing to tackle workplace stress?

  • Have a mental ill health policy, or stress at work policy that informs employees of what to do should they feel stressed at work. This will also assist line managers and senior management in handling stress at work situations effectively and consistently.
  • Promote a culture where employees can freely discuss stress and create open lines of communication between employees and their line managers: early intervention can be vital.
  • Comply with their legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting upon it. Identifying any clear stressors and removing them early can prevent stress-related issues arising.
  • Consider what support network is in place for employees. Confidential employee assistance/counselling services can be helpful for those who do not wish to discuss their concerns with their line manager/HR. Also, ensure that employees are aware of any services which are available to them.
  • Provide training for all levels of management and HR to assist in identifying symptoms of stress and how to tackle stressors at an early stage.

If you wish to discuss stress or mental health at work in more detail please get in touch with your usual Brodies contact..

Workbox subscribers can access our dedicated mental ill health page for further information, guidance and template policies.

Jamie Guyan

Solicitor at Brodies LLP
Jamie is experienced in handling contentious and non-contentious employment issues for employers across a number of sectors. In particular, Jamie has worked with employers on policy and contract drafting, collective consultations, matters involving TUPE as well as dealing with grievances and disciplinary processes.
Jamie Guyan