How HR can help stressed employees cope

Checking email outside of working hours can lead to employees feeling stressed

With Mental Health Awareness Week putting stress in the spotlight, HR teams are reminded of how they can play an important role in helping stressed employees manage. Jaan Madan of Mental Health First Aid England explains.

Over the past few years there has been significant progress in improving mental health awareness across society. But, as research from Mental Health First Aid England and the Mental Health Foundation has found, only 14% of people are comfortable speaking to a manager about stress. Clearly there is more work to do to translate increased awareness into action.

Stress is the body’s natural response when it senses danger. We all experience stress and healthy amounts of stress can be a motivator at work. But when stress interferes with our lives, it becomes a problem. Too much stress for too long can make us ill and, if unaddressed, stress can cause mental health issues like depression or anxiety and harm our physical health.

With one in six adults experiencing depression, anxiety or issues relating to stress at any one time – and with 12.5 million working days lost due to work related stress, depression or anxiety last year – it’s important for HR professionals to ensure that employees are equipped with the knowledge and support to manage their own stress levels and feel confident helping others who may need support.

Pressure to be ‘always on’

Stress can arise from the pressure to be ‘always on’ and our survey has found that 32% of people worry about work in their own time. In a busy working world, it’s easy for employees to slip into bad habits such as checking emails late at night and over the weekend. But HR teams can play a role in tackling this culture by issuing regular communications that encourage healthier working habits.

Reminding employees to take regular breaks and sharing tips to help them switch off from work can combat presenteeism and ensure employees are more motivated during working hours. Some employers might go further and prohibit employees from sending emails outside of operating hours. Providing a wellbeing tip each week via email, or by displaying information around the office, can provide helpful prompts for employees.

There are also ways to encourage longer-term healthier behaviours. Regular physical activity and a varied diet are some of the key foundations of good mental health; so incentivising healthier commuting options such as walking or cycling, organising regular opportunities for physical activity before, during or after work – or even providing fresh fruit and veg in the office – can make a big difference over time.

Managers’ role

Managers have a crucial role to play in spotting signs that someone may be struggling and to take the first step towards offering initial support. WHSmith is one employer that recognises the important role managers have in creating a mentally health organisation and 90% of their office line managers are trained in mental health first aid.

Ensuring managers receive training to help them recognise the signs that somebody is experiencing too much stress can help prevent issues before they arise. The need for more training is underscored by the fact that many employees are afraid to discuss stress openly.

Talking about mental health is a great first step in creating a healthy organisation. But to better support employees and transform practices across an entire organisation, employers need to offer mental health training.

Organising mental health awareness training can be a good way to increase understanding of the issues. By helping employees understand the symptoms of mental ill health, and how to signpost someone towards support, employers can help normalise the issue and get support to those in need, faster.

Talking about mental health is a great first step in creating a healthy organisation. But to better support employees and transform practices across an entire organisation, employers need to offer mental health training.”

Stress can often arise from range of emotional, physical and environmental factors rather than a single source. It’s important to provide all employees with clear information to help them understand what stress is, what the key sources are and some examples of helpful coping methods.

Through dedicated resources, employees can be encouraged and empowered to take ownership of their own mental health. There are a number of free and practical guides available from mental health charities and Acas. Our Address Your Stress’ toolkit has been created to help employers and employees reduce the impact.

Jaan Madan

About Jaan Madan

Workplace lead at Mental Health First Aid England
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