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Tips on tackling stress in the workplace

Jo Eccles, business adviser at The Forum of Private Business, highlights the importance of considering the impact of workplace stress, and outlines some practical steps a business owner can take to consider the mental well being of their employees.
The positive signs of recovery are not just welcome news for the business owners but also for many employees, as work for many the past few years may have felt more like an emotional roller coaster.

Restructure, budget cuts and redundancy have become bywords in the workplace, and the result is increased fear, uncertainty, greater work demand all resulting in and higher levels of stress.

The negative effect of workplace stress should not be underestimated as Jo Eccles, business adviser at the Forum of Private Business, explains:

"No job is without its pressures, in fact some pressure can be positive and a motivating factor, helping employees to achieve goals and perform better.

"However when an employee feels excessive pressures, such as feeling they lack the skills, support and direction to do the job this can result in workplace stress. Some workplace pressure is normal, but excessive stress can interfere with your employee's productivity and is linked with high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other issues such as more errors. Employers are increasingly realising that a stressful environment is damaging to their reputation and retention, and are beginning to see the need to put the correct preventative frameworks in place as an integral part of their health, safety and welfare policies.

So what can an employer do to reduce the likelihood of workplace stress?

Jo continues "Businesses do have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of their employees under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Stress should be treated with the same importance as any other potential health and safety risk and developing a clear procedure and policies in place to tackle the issue."

Employer tips on tackling workplace stress

Conduct a risk assessment

As with any other potential health and safety risk assessments, this will help to identify potential workplace stressors and training needs, management support needed to reduce any identified problems.

Management Training
Management training is key to ensuring that staff feel that they receive, the clear direction, relevant support and training they need to reduce the likelihood of healthy pressure developing into unwanted stress. Training should include areas such as:
  • Setting realistic tasks, workloads, and timescales
  • Highlighting the importance of open communication and that employees should feel that they can go to speak to them about problems openly
  • To clearly communicate to staff that work-related stress is not a personal problem, but an issue that the company takes seriously and is keen to address.
Any management training should also recognise that managers are not mind readers and that they should also receive guidance how to monitor signs of workplace stress, such as excessively long working hours, attendance. It is also worth considering factoring questions in appraisals on how employees are coping with the pressure in performance appraisals and talking to leavers in exit interviews to establish is pressure was a deciding factor in their decision to leave.

Send out a clear message that you take stress seriously

Any assessment and management training should also be supported with a clear stress policy that outlines the company's acknowledgement of the potential damaging effects of workplace stress and the commitment to identify and reduce the effects.

Key elements of a policy include:
  • A clear definition of what stress is
  • A clear statement of the what the company intends to do to reduce the risk of stress in the workplace (risk assessment, training, counselling services)
  • Staff responsibilities in effective stress management (Line Managers, employees, and HR managers).
A variety of organisations can provide further advice and information on effectively tackling stress in the workplace. For further information, call the Forum's business advice team on 0845 130 1722. 

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