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How to manage stress in the workplace

Over 13 million work days a year are lost due to work-related stress, that’s 22.6 days off per year for every person that it affects, costing the UK around £3.7 billion a year*. Find out what you can do to reduce the impact on your business.

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As an employer you have a legal duty to ensure the health of your employees at work – which includes not suffering stress-related illness. Read our top tips for minimising stress and creating a happy, healthy workforce.

1. Identify potential causes of stress

Most causes are fairly obvious, such as excessively high workloads, unmanageable deadlines, poor employee relations, poor company communication, weak managers and clashing priorities where, for example, a member of staff is given several tasks by different managers, with each one pushed as a priority.

Many of these will only lead to short-term stress; however, any major issues, such as bullying or harassment, will create long-term stress and have a far bigger impact on the employee's overall productivity.

To check for causes of stress, it is necessary to carry out an audit. As with all audits, if you know what you are looking for before you start, the process should be fairly straightforward. Imagine all potential causes of stress (many of which are listed above) and then work through the company to check whether any may exist in your own working environment. Encourage staff comments on how things could be improved as this will help identify many common causes of stress.

2. Establish which members of staff are at risk from stress

Stressed employees are likely to be over-tired, irritable, suffer from general aches and pains and start taking more sick days. An increase in the frequency of arguments between staff and a high staff turnover rate are indicative of more endemic problems.

The same criteria can be used to judge your own stress levels. If you feel that your performance is starting to slip or that you are losing interest in your work, there is a fair chance that this is due to stress.

3. Tackle the problems

Having carried out your audit, or at least taken time to observe potential causes of stress, you should be in a position to take action.

The process can be as simple as identifying the problem and taking corrective action. For example, allowing regular breaks, providing more realistic deadlines, and ensuring adequate training and resources.

If your business is going through a period of change, ensure that all staff are aware of why it is happening and agree a system for implementing it. The other main approach is to seek to use the audit as a chance to stop problems before they even arise. For instance, jobs should be well-matched to employees' skills, and targets should be specific and achievable.

Finally, keep staff informed as to how the business is performing. Even if you are going through hard times, it is probably better to tell the staff so they can at least have a clear picture and can react accordingly, rather than waste energy trying to guess the situation. And, of course, you should also be sensitive to external causes of stress. Employees going through personal problems, relationship difficulties or family crises are unlikely to be concentrating on their work.

4. Follow HSE standards

To address the issue, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has developed the Management Standards for Work-related Stress, to help employers work with their employees to reduce the risks of stress.

The Standards are not legislation but are designed to help businesses meet their duty of care to protect the health and safety of staff under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

They look at several factors by which stress can be identified and managed. These include workload, work patterns and environment, the level of support employees receive from management and their relationships with colleagues. There are many indicators that can be used to spot possible stress amongst employees and the HSE recommends various ways of dealing with these.

The HSE has published a free guide to help small businesses understand its guidelines for managing stress at work, which provides practical guidance on controlling and managing stress. You can also download an example company stress policy.

How the Forum can help

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