April is Stress Awareness Month[i] which seeks to raise awareness of this growing problem. It’s also a good opportunity for employers to consider their role in helping reduce stress in the workplace.
The Health and Safety Executive[ii] says that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17. Some of the causes include workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.
Adrian Lewis, Director of absence management software company, Activ Absence says,
“Stress is a growing epidemic in Britain’s workplaces. High pressure working environments, a long working hour’s culture and the increased use of mobile technology can make it difficult for people to switch off. Increasingly, we are talking to employers who are very concerned about how to alleviate employee stress and improve people’s mental wellbeing.”
Recent research from Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) in association with Punter Southall Health & Protection, highlighted that mental health was the top concern for Britain’s CEOs when it came to wellbeing, with almost three in five (60%) CEO saying it is the area of employee wellbeing that interests the Board most.
Adrian Lewis, says,
“Mental health is moving up the workplace agenda, with more CEOs wanting to tackle the issue but many are still overlooking the fact that more must be done to help identify potential mental health issues early on before problems escalate.”
“Monitoring absence patterns and producing detailed reports is one way for companies to do this. These can be used in conjunction with return to work interviews and data analysed to show the true picture of the health and mental wellbeing of their workforce.”
Lewis says that companies should use this data to ensure their staff wellbeing initiatives are being targeted accurately and that they address the needs of employees. Data can also help line managers identify employees with possible mental health challenges and direct staff them to support services such as EAPS and counselling which can help them work through their issues and provide vital support to get them on the road to recovery more quickly.
Adrian Lewis offers the following ten tips for managing stress in the workplace:
Encourage conservations about mental health and promote an open culture where people feel they can talk to their line manager about any concerns.
Include a section on the intranet about stress, recognising the symptoms and ways to reduce stress such as exercise. Make sure staff are aware this section is there.
Consider introducing flexible working practices and allowing people to work at home now and again. For instance, some companies let employees do a nine day fortnight which means they can get every second Friday off.
Train managers to recognise stress, anxiety and depression and how to manage staff with mental health issues.
Look at ways to improve employee engagement and morale. For instance, introduce Friday afternoon drinks to thank everyone for their hard work or a monthly team outing for lunch.
Encourage people to take regular breaks and not eat lunch at their desks. Time away from their desk and perhaps going for a walk outside can help people feel more refreshed and less stressed, plus it’s good for their posture.
Hold a social media free day or week. This could even be a sponsored event to raise money for a local charity. Social media is known to increase stress, so by raising awareness of this link, people make start to monitor their usage.
Don’t rely on out-of-date paper forms and spreadsheets to monitor absence trends. Invest in an absence management system so absence can be tracked, along with holiday leave or any other leave (volunteer/study days etc.). This can also make managing flexible working easier.
Always conduct back to work interviews when people are off sick, so that employees can talk about any issues that might be causing them stress. It’s also an opportunity to spot areas of concern.
Create a positive working culture by regularly praising and recognising achievements and encourage employees to suggest new ideas and become more involved in the goals of the organisation.
Gatwick Airport was recently forced to shut its runway four times because of staff sickness. Only one air traffic controller out of three scheduled to be working was in the control tower and the airport needed to schedule mandatory breaks – the situation caused passenger delay and frustration.
In Leicester, the City Council recently published its absence figures which showed the average full-time employee took 12.75 days off in sickness leave in 2016/17 – totalling over 69,000 working days lost to sickness in one year. The council said that 10% of employees accounted for 70% of absence and it was taking steps to tackle sickness levels.
Adrian Lewis, Director of Activ Absence says these stories highlight the negative and costly impact sickness absence can have on an organisation, but there are solutions.
According to Lewis:
“Tracking absence is crucial for any organisation to ensure work can be carried out effectively and safely. For Gatwick Airport the impact of only having one air traffic controller had a huge knock on effect for hundreds of passengers who faced delays, not to mention damage to the reputation of the airport.
“In Leicester the high number of days lost to sickness would almost certainly have impacted other colleagues in the office who would have had to take on additional work. There are also huge cost implications. The Centre of Economic and Business Research reported last year that workplace absence is costing the UK £18bn in lost productivity, so it makes commercial sense for companies to tackle absence head on.”
“Using absence management software, employers can record sickness absence and keep on top of it – spotting key trends, such as people regularly taking a Friday or a Monday off, which can suggest underlying health issues such as stress. Once an organisation has a record of sickness absence and the reasons behind it they can offer support and address the issues their employees may be facing.”
A recent survey by Group Risk Development (Grid), found that more than one-fifths (22%) of employer respondents believe that their employee absence rates are higher than other organisations because they do not have health and wellbeing initiatives in place.
The survey also found that 20% of respondents feel their employee absence rates are higher because of poor work-life balance, compared to 24% who cite ineffective absence management processes as the reason for higher employee absence rates.
Adrian Lewis says,
“This research highlights that wellbeing initiatives can help reduce absence rates, however, without the right systems in place to get to the root causes of absence then introducing these may be futile. Investing in absence management software can help flag up ongoing health issues, so that companies can tailor their support.
“It also allows for greater transparency, better resourcing and helps business plan more effectively, plus it can act as a deterrent to pulling a sickie as people know that it will recorded and followed up with a back to work interview. Not only will sickness absence be reduced but so will the associated costs and productivity will be improved.”