Q What are the signs of a stressed employee?
A Employees will often not want to admit to their employer or themselves that the pressure of work is getting to them. However, because the law expects employers to predict and avoid reasonably foreseeable risks of injury to their employees, including the damaging effects of stress, employers must be on the lookout. It is not sufficient to wait for an employee to complain.
Some of the common symptoms of stress in employees are:
- a negative change in mood or behaviour
- a deterioration in relationships with colleagues
- longer hours being worked with no additional achievement
- poor performance (more mistakes, missed deadlines and a reluctance to face up to or prioritise difficult tasks).
Q What should employers do to prevent stress at work?
A It is important that managers and colleagues are able to identify potential problems at an early stage, so training can be useful. There should be easy ways for employees to raise concerns about work pressure both informally and formally, perhaps via general supervision and management, as a specific part of a grievance procedure or even under a dedicated stress policy.
Giving access to trained confidential counsellors can be useful, though their role needs to be carefully thought through, particularly with regard to the action that they can and cannot take once they know an employee is stressed. Where an employee is suffering from stress a course of action should be agreed with them and the outcome monitored.
Q What should an employer do where it suspects an employee is stressed, but they deny it?
A Employers are under a duty to protect employees' health and safety, regardless of whether an employee is willing to run the risk of harm. For this reason, it is important for an employer not to take such a denial at face value. Concerns should be raised in a way that makes it easy for the employee to be honest - for example away from a particularly tough manager. If the employee continues to deny that they are stressed, the employer should make a dated note of all conversations on the subject and ensure the situation is monitored.
Q How does it affect the situation if an employee's stress is caused by problems not related to their work?
A An employer's duty of care does not extend