This week saw the nation celebrate Stress Awareness Day, an annual event to raise awareness of this growing issue and promote the importance of wellbeing for individuals and organisations.

A report from the Health and Safety Executive found that in 2016/17 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 40 per cent of all work-related ill health cases and 49 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health – equating to 12.5 million lost working days.

The main factors causing this are workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.

Adrian Lewis, director of Activ Absence says, ‘Stress is a 21st century epidemic as we are all working longer hours and the prolific use of mobile technology can make switching off from work difficult. The boundaries are increasingly being blurred between work and home, and together with a 24/7 working culture this is leading to rising levels of stress in the workplace.

‘Organisations need to address this and get to the root causes of why it’s happening. This is vital for the wellbeing of their employees and to help tackle rising sickness absence, plus the growing problem of presenteeism, which sees people coming to work when they are unwell, as they feel unable to take time off.’

Adrian Lewis says many organisations could do more to recognise and combat stress and offers the following tips for managing stress in the workplace:

1. Introduce flexible working practices, which allow 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.

2. Companies should try to tackle the stigma of stress by providing a supportive and open culture where people feel they can talk to their line manager about any concerns. A section on the intranet about stress, recognising the symptoms and ways to reduce stress such as exercise, could be a good start.

3. Provide line manager training to be able to spot the signs of stress and depression early on. This can help initiate conversations before things get out of hand and to provide appropriate support if needed.

4. Improve employee engagement and morale in the organisation. This could be as simple as Friday afternoon drinks to thank everyone for their hard work or a monthly team outing for lunch. Encouraging people to socialise and not just talk about work can be a good stress reliever.

5. 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.

6. Introduce a strategic absence management system instead of out-of-date paper forms and spreadsheets, to monitor absence trends. This can help organisations keep track of who’s in or not, especially if the organisation offers flexible working. It can also flag up if someone is taking a lot of time off sick.

7. Make sure you do back to work interviews when people are off sick. This gives your employee the opportunity to talk about any issues or feelings of stress, as well as give you the chance spot potential areas of concern.

8. Adopting a more positive management style can help employees feel more engaged. It’s important to regularly praise and recognise people’s achievements, and encourage employees to suggest new ideas and generally become more involved in the goals of the organisation.

9. Companies could introduce an initiative like Perk Box to motivate employees and improve happiness. The programme offers employees discounts on big brands, including fitness and wellness products and a way to reward and recognise people’s hard work.

10. Finally, why not have a team session at work looking at ways to combat stress and the signs to look out for. End the session highlighting what policies the company has in place for tackling stress, so everyone is aware of the support on offer.

Adrian Lewis adds, ‘Taking on board some of these tips can really help organisations show they are mindful that stress can be a problem and are keen to help employees should things start to get on top of them. Initiatives such as Stress Awareness Day are great as they give companies an excuse to do something and start conversations about stress. For example, we have masseurs coming into the office today to give staff head and neck massages at their desks to promote the day. This is a treat but at the same time has a serious message that we want to look after our staff and care for their wellbeing.’

Further reading on stress

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