Last month the Mental Health Foundation hosted its annual Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year the focus was on Stress.
The Health and Safety Executive reports that over 500,000 workers experienced work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/2017 with 12.5 million working days being lost to these problems.
However, whilst people are talking about mental health more than ever, there remains a stigma surrounding stress. Employees suffering from stress and associated problems like depression and anxiety often feel they will be thought of as weak if they admit they are finding it difficult to cope.
Employers, in their duty to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees, should look out for staff who may be displaying signs of stress and do what they can to support them.
Of course, not all stress that employees experience is work-related. There can be personal issues outside of work or at home that cause people to come to work feeling stressed. The additional pressure of work can then cause people to feel overloaded. While it’s generally acknowledged that an amount of work pressure is normally a benefit to motivation and productivity, too much pressure, or pressure when they are already struggling can affect their emotional and physical health, reduce their productivity and lead to issues with their work performance.
Spotting the signs of someone experiencing stress
Signs you should look out for include:
• changes in the employee’s behaviour, their mood and/or the way they interact with their colleagues
• changes in the standard of the employee’s work, their ability to focus and/or loss of interest in their work
• they may start turning up late for work or being absent due to sickness
• the employee may become withdrawn and appear anxious or tired
• increases in smoking, drinking and/or losing their appetite
Talking to the employee
Although it’s important not to make assumptions, if you think an employee may be suffering from stress, the worst thing to do is to avoid the issue. You should arrange to speak with the employee in private as soon as possible. Conversations of a sensitive nature can be extremely difficult, so it’s important that you are positive and supportive and try to reassure the employee.
It may be that the employee doesn’t want to talk about what they are going through. If that’s the case, then it’s important you let them know you are there to help and support them in any way you can. And if the employee does wish to talk in the future, that your door is always open.
If the employee does decide to talk, you should listen rather than talk, give the employee as much time as necessary and be open minded to anything that you hear.
If the problem is work related, then you can try to identify what’s causing the problem. It may be possible to make some changes to their working arrangements or responsibilities. Sometimes that is all that’s needed, and any changes made can be temporary or, if necessary, made permanent. Even where the problem is not work-related, this type of support may still help, as it’s a reduction in the overall pressure in the employee’s life.
It’s important that you continue to monitor the employee, check how they are feeling and whether any workplace changes are helping. Be sure to offer additional support as and when needed.
If the situation isn’t improving, or appears to be getting worse, then you should seek expert HR guidance on next steps.