Stress-related absenteeism is creating a vicious cycle that is generating even more stress for all concerned. Doctors sign employees off work for several weeks at a time, their colleagues get stressed from the burden of the extra work they have to do to cover for the person who has been signed off, and then managers get stressed from having to handle disgruntled and overworked staff. Quite a challenge for HR to deal with.
The workplace often gets blamed for causing the stress in the first place – even though the government is doing its best to push the message that being in work is good for you – when, in reality, it may be factors in employees’ home lives that have pushed them over the edge.
Either way, employers are increasingly under pressure to create work environments that do not put unnecessary demands on their staff. But, given the shocking figures in the Personnel Today/HSA survey – where almost all the HR professionals who took part agreed that stress was the biggest threat to the future health of the workforce – clearly not enough is being done.
How employers interpret and act on their ‘duty of care’ – and how far they are expected to go – is a topic we analyse in this week’s main feature.
Offering access to an employee helpline or counselling service is a start, but may not be sufficient if a stress claim reaches tribunal. However, there areeveryday things that employers can do to minimise the incidence of stress in their organisation before it gets to that stage.
Being clear about people’s roles, giving them control over how they do their job, avoiding a long-hours culture, and communicating any organisational changes can help employees feel more in charge of their lives and therefore less prone to stress.
Stress can be incredibly difficult to spot, and even harder to manage. But you have to do something – and be seen to be doing something – because the consequences of doing nothing are just too costly.