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February 23, 2015

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Employee stress stressing you out?

stress-391657_1280By Dr Mark Winwood

For any employer, looking after the physical and psychological health of employees should be of utmost importance. Your workforce is arguably your most valuable asset and therefore, like any other vital business tool, it should be looked after and kept in peak condition. For those who manage the safety and health of others, they too should be protected from physical and psychological harm. It’s good business sense.

Mental health issues are prevalent in the workplace, with one in six employees experiencing at least one mental health disorder at any given time. The cost of mental ill health to the UK economy is a whopping £26 billion each year in lost time through sickness absence, reduced productivity at work and staff turnover.

Having stressed employees is not good for businesses as it has damaging knock-on effects such as reduced motivation and productivity, which can have a direct impact on customer service levels and satisfaction.

For employers, spotting the signs and symptoms of stress and mental health issues in employees can be difficult as they can differ widely. However, some of the following may indicate that an employee is suffering from a mental health issue:

  • Psychological symptoms – confusion, indecision, aggression, low mood/mood swings, being tearful, low self-confidence, lack of motivation, deterioration in memory.
  • Physical symptoms – change in movement (for example, moving more slowly than usual), change in weight/appetite, unexplained aches and pains.
  • Behavioural/social signs – appearing nervous, change in eating habits, change in attendance, neglecting work, withdrawing from social media channels, loss of interest in appearance, deterioration of performance at work, fatigue.

However, identifying these may be the easy part of the process, as raising your concern with an employee about the state of their mental health can be a difficult conversation to have. Training is crucial to enable managers to have an effective conversation with someone they feel may be suffering from stress, anxiety or depression without having a negative impact. With better understanding of these conditions and their effects, along with having a positive, supportive workplace culture, managers can feel comfortable talking to employees about their situation and supporting them in doing their job.

Stress is not something employers can just ignore – a proactive approach to addressing it is needed. The following pointers can help managers relieve the stress employees may be experiencing and hopefully prevent it from escalating into a mental health problem:

  • Changes in workplace culture: building and maintaining a positive workplace culture needs to be modelled from the top down, with managers leading by example and demonstrating their awareness of the importance of psychological wellbeing to their employees and ensuring they promote a healthy work/life balance.
  • Productivity: working well includes encouraging staff to take regular breaks, use their holiday within the year and, if practical, avoid having to deal with emails and calls outside of their working hours unless urgent. This can help to relieve work related stress and have a beneficial effect on productivity.
  • Work/life balance: it is also important to recognise how important an employee’s home life is, how it can affect them and how their family can be included as a support system. Invite employees’ families to join in with work related social events and give consideration to allowing employees to work flexibly.
  • Diet and exercise: these can have a significant effect on employee mood and sense of wellbeing. Eating fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy, balanced diet helps us to feel better and exercise is known to aid relaxation and be conducive to good mental health.

As safety and health practitioners, it is your job to ensure that people are well protected from risks and kept out of danger. It’s an approach that should not only cover your day to day activities with clients and stakeholders but should also encompass your entire workforce. Stress can adversely affect your business unless you take positive steps to negate it, which will benefit both your team and your organisation’s bottom line.

Dr Mark Winwood is director of psychological services, AXA PPP healthcare

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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DR Bill Robb
DR Bill Robb
9 years ago

If you feel your organisation needs stress management courses, that is you are noticing the signs of over-stress, it is too late! The damage has been done. Yes, one then has o take steps to correct it. Of course it would be better to do all the simple things to ensure over-stress does not arise in the first place.

9 years ago

Stress Management is very interesting topic to me. To begin with, it is very likely to make our minds around Top Management Level. If The Manager feels happy then the team will feel it responsively..