Employee Benefits Summit 2010: Panel debate: Stress in the workplace

Employers must take steps to proactively tackle stress, rather than avoiding the issue.

Speaking in a panel debate on the second day of the Employee Benefits Summit in Monte Carlo, Dame Carol Black, national director for health and work health at the Work and Wellbeing Delivery Unit, said: “It is avoided because it is difficult. People feel uncomfortable talking about stress, mental health and depression.”

She added that employers will not achieve an engaged workforce if employees are not healthy.

In some cases, tackling stress will require a cultural change within an organisation. Caroline Jowett-Ive, group vice president reward at Travelport, said: It is about changing mindsets because you think people are playing the stress card. It is about having occupational health [benefits] and having these as part of a strategy.”

Ralph Turner, pensions and benefits director at Mars UK, added that bringing in a new wellness programme helped to change the culture of the organisation, which has benefited both staff and the business.

But identifying stress in the workplace can be difficult. John Chilman, group reward and pensions director at First Group, said: “Stress is a symptom of so many things. So many stress issues are not work-related. With the thin layers of management we have these days, it is difficult to get early interventions.”

Training line managers to identify and deal with stress issues can be vital to tackling individual cases as early as possible. Ensuring staff are aware that their employer operates an early intervention approach can also help to curb bogus stress-related absence. Chris Coyne, group head of reward at City and Guilds, said: “If you focus on the process for early intervention and make this known, employees know that if they are off work for so many days they will get a phone call and a visit.”

But employers should not assume that all stress in the workplace is bad for staff. “There is positive stress as well. But the challenge comes back to the line manager in recognising when it tips over and becomes a problem,” added Coyne.

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