12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety during 2016/17, the Health and Safety Executive has revealed.
Some of the causes include pressures of workloads, including tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.
As stress awareness month gets underway this April, Adrian Lewis, director of absence management software company, Activ Absence, has outlined his top tips for employers to tackle stress.
“Stress is a growing epidemic in Britain’s workplaces. High pressure working environments, a long working hours culture and the increased use of mobile technology can make it difficult for people to switch off,” said Lewis.
“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’ top tips include:
1. Encourage conversations about mental health and promote an open culture where people feel they can talk to their line manager about any concerns.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Train managers to recognise stress, anxiety and depression and how to manage staff with mental health issues.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 may start to monitor their usage.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.