Stress and Poor Mental Health in the Workplace – what can employers do to help?

In the 2017/18 financial year 15.4 million working days were lost due to work related stress, anxiety and depression, with over half a million workers reporting they were suffering due to work.

One in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point in their lives – with the most common conditions being anxiety and depression. Work related stress, if prolonged, can cause both physical and psychological damage – including anxiety and depression.

Every employer wishes to avoid poor mental health in their workforce and would never want to be the cause of it, but what can be done and what, if any, legal requirements are there?

Every employer has a duty to protect their workers from foreseeable risks by carrying out a risk assessment and where required acting to eliminate or mitigate those risks.

Stress is a foreseeable risk. To help employers comply with the law the HSE offers guidance standards on work related stress.

Firstly, assess whether your organisation is at risk from stress. This should be carried out using the following steps

  • Identifying what the stressors might be in your workplace – these are the Risks
  • Decide who might be harmed by stress and how
  • Evaluate the Risks
  • Record your findings – develop and implement action plans
  • Monitor and review

The HSE advise that by adopting their management standards (available free here) and making a policy commitment to manage stressors, employers are likely to be legally compliant.

In outline the HSE Standards cover six areas relating to stress.

  • Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
  • Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
  • Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
  • Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
  • Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation

A sample of a stress risk assessment can be seen here.

Not all poor mental health is work related, but it does still have an impact on work. For example, the Construction Industry has realised that stress, anxiety and depression really affect their employees. Currently two construction workers take their lives every day. To try and tackle this epidemic two large, industry led campaigns have been launched.

Mates in Mind, which is designed to raise awareness, address stigma and improve mental wellbeing in construction.

Building Mental Health, has created a freely available, industry-wide framework and charter to tackle the mental health crisis in the construction industry.

Other steps employers can take are signing up to an employee assistance program that offers free advice and support for employees, develop a culture that does not stigmatize mental ill health, training supervisors and managers in understanding mental health and ensuring return to work interviews are sensitive to the possibility of mental health issues.

Having a positive attitude to mental health and managing potential stress at work is proven to help employers reduce absence, retain employees, increase productivity and generally have a happier workplace.

If you would like to discuss stress risk assessments for your business, please contact Ian Dakin at Safety Management and he’d be happy to help.

Ian Dakin is a Mental Health First Aider and has experience of developing rehabilitation and stress reduction policies and practices in the workplace

Article Copyright : Safety Management Ltd
Image Copyright : Katarzyna Białasiewicz
Diagram Copyright : © Crown copyright HSE

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