Workplace Stress and How to Avoid it

In the last of our series on wellbeing, we are looking at stress, how HR can help managers and staff to avoid it, and what effect it can have on companies.

The number of working days lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2014/15 was 9.9 million, according to a Labour Force Survey.

That means that the condition affected 1,380 workers in every 100,000, with each person losing 23 days a year – that’s nearly a month of working days! Public services such as health, education, and public administration are particularly hard hit by these conditions. It is also more prevalent in larger organisations.

So what is causing this phenomenon?

According to the survey, the predominant cause was workload, including tight deadlines, too much work, pressure and responsibility.

Other factors included a lack of managerial support, organisational changes at work, lack of control, violence and role uncertainty, ie, the lack of clarity about the job and uncertainty over what an individual is meant to do.

What’s more, a study by the British Heart Foundation found that those affected by workplace stress also put their health at risk by smoking more, drinking more, eating the wrong foods and failing to exercise.

Most of the issues can be tackled within the workplace.

What you can do

When it comes to workload, deadlines and pressure, ensuring that staff are taking the holidays they are entitled to, and that staff absences are not putting pressure on those workers who are left to cover is vital. Proper holiday planning, detailed handovers, and monitoring of the number of days taken off are all vital. Monitoring may highlight patterns for instance of sickness absence, that a manager can then address.

It also means that if staff leave, or are absent for some time, proper cover should be provided, rather than relying on other members of staff to cover their own work as well as that of a missing colleague.

You also need to make sure that hours are in line with the Working Time Regulations – working no more than 48 hours a week on average – normally averaged over 17 weeks.  And those under 18 cannot work for more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. There are exceptions of course, in professions such as the armed forces, police and emergency services, security and surveillance.  Staff may opt out of the Working Time Regulations and you can find details on this at the Gov.uk website here.

The Working Time Regulations govern the hours most workers can work and set:

  •  limits on an average working week
  • statutory entitlement to paid leave for most workers
  • limits on the normal hours of night work and regular health assessments
  • special regulations for young workers.

As with so many things, prevention is most definitely better than cure. The company needs to have procedures in place so that issues are reported with confidence, and regular reviews between managers and staff can ensure that any problems are picked up early, so that measures can be put in place to prevent situations worsening.

You can also encourage managers to lead by example and by creating a far more pleasant workplace culture. They should encourage regular breaks, not expect long working hours, encourage lunch to be taken away from a desk, and also be open to flexible working, if it is viable in your industry.

There is a lot to take in here. You might like to refer back to our two previous blogs in the wellbeing series.

  •  Holidays are vital to a healthy workplace – click here
  • Fit and healthy staff make for a fit and healthy company – click here

But the overriding message is simple, look after your staff and it will pay dividends!

If you have issues with planning and managing holidays and absenteeism, do talk to us about HR software solutions. We recommend Staff Squared.

Equally, we are well placed to assist you in implementing a plan to address managing wellbeing in the workplace, including drawing up clear and relevant job descriptions, objectives setting and appraisals; all of which can help identify learning and development needs giving your teams more confidence to do the job effectively and efficiently.

We look forward to hearing from you. Email us or phone Cecily on 07767 308 717.

Embrace HR Limited, based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, helps SMEs who do not have their own HR departments, or those who need HR support from time to time.