We can’t over stress the importance of effectively managing workplace stress.
The latest Labour Force Survey stats show that work-related stress, depression or anxiety combined for 39% (adding up to 487,000 individual cases) of work-related illnesses. Annually, 11.3 million sick leave days (and an average of 23 days per case) are taken due to these mental strain factors. In fact, eight in ten workers in the Capita Employee Benefits employee insight report (2014) admitted to feeling stressed in the past year.
So what can HR managers do to help their organisations effectively manage this common problem? EEF’s HR Consultancy team has worked with HR teams and manufacturers to address sickness absence and lack of employee engagement (a symptom of stress management problems).
And for those looking for some immediate tips to ensure their stress management policies are as effective as possible, here are a few ideas:
Build in professional development
A major cause of workplace stress is not feeling adequately prepared for carrying out your duties effectively. Training plans are key for on-boarding new employees, employees who were recently promoted or those returning from a long leave of absence.
And learning shouldn’t stop after orientation is completed. Preparing professional development plans for their workers help managers ensure their team is keeping up the technology and skills necessary for their job. This professional development plan should be created and regularly assessed with input from the employee to ensure they have regular opportunities to share their opinion on job skills they are lacking.
Plan for change
Change is a fact of life, and in the workplace. Acquisitions, downsizings, terminations and new product lines are just a few changes that can add stress to employees’ work lives. Planning management strategies, communication and training that minimises the effects of these stresses is vital. When a new business plan or product line is due to be released, are HR and management thinking about how these plans will impact employees and identifying potential stress points?
HR and health and safety managers should conduct regular, audited risk assessments to understand the health of their workforce. The assessment should look at sick leave and turnover rates and combine this data with an employee survey to see what patterns emerge. Over time, this data and analysis highlights very interesting problems and opportunities for improvement. For example, if a team that is typically healthy and happy suddenly has six months of high levels of sickness leave and decreased employee morale, the company should examine recent personnel or company changes that could be at fault.
Management training is essential for two aspects of effective stress management in the workplace. Firstly, the common causes of workplace stress, as expanded on in our Stress resource (available to download for EEF members), are directly related to team dynamics and effective line management:
Demands of the work – including workload, work patterns and the working environment;
Control - when and how the job is done
Support - the level and availability of resource and assistance made available to the employee
Relationships - free from conflict, bullying and harassment
Role - no role conflict or ambiguity
Change - management of organisational change and communication to the workforce.
It is essential that managers recognise the symptoms and causes of stress for themselves so they can avoid causing workplace stress. Stressed managers can make excessive demands and overload their team or willing individuals without realising that they are accepting too much work for their team.
Secondly, managers should receive specialised training on identifying employees with stress challenges.
And providing these managers with a process to follow once a problem is identified is key…
Process for dealing with problems
In a real-life example, United Biscuits, a British manufacturer, noticed an up-tick in employees reporting workplace stress. To counteract this, they implemented
Annual site risk assessments
Began tracking work-related illness versus non-work-related illness
Conducted an annual staff survey which included questions on the common stress risk factors (control, support, etc.)
Identified ‘hotspots’ for employee turnover, stress and absenteeism
Trained managers in new Management Standards for identifying and solving stress problems, including when the employee should be referred to HR
United Biscuits’ program led to an estimated 40 fewer weeks of absence due to work stress. Their comprehensive, best practice policies also helped the company produce a better defence in any employee claims and tribunals.
For more concrete ideas from EEF’s experts on managing stress and reducing absenteeism get in touch with our HRC team.