Rachel Suff: Can employers do more to support staff with stress?

Work-related stress can pose a risk to businesses as well as employees, often resulting in higher sickness absence, lower staff engagement and reduced performance.

The latest Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)/Simplyhealth Health and wellbeing at work report (published on 5 April) found that work-related stress remains a persistent and widespread problem in UK workplaces.

Nearly four-fifths (79%) of the HR professionals polled reported some stress-related absence in their organisation over the past year.

Covid-19 (Coronavirus) has also created additional stress, with nearly a quarter (24%) of the HR respondents including Covid-related anxiety among their top three causes of workplace stress.

Unmanageable workloads remain by far one of the most common causes of stress at work. In some organisations it’s likely the pandemic has played a part in this, whether directly, for example due to increased operational demands, or indirectly, such as higher staff absence affecting staffing levels and levels of output.

Identifying these problems quickly and adding additional resource as required can make a huge difference with helping people to better manage their workloads.

Concerningly, only around half of the survey respondents believe they are effective in tackling workplace stress (52%) or in identifying and managing the mental health risks arising from Covid-19 (48%).

To help tackle stress, employers, people professionals and managers need to be in tune with employee wellbeing needs and identify and tackle any causes of work-related stress.

‘Line management style’ is another major cause of work-related stress, showing how detrimental the impact can be to people’s health if managers aren’t trained and supported to go about their people management role in the right way.

Ensuring that line managers are capable and confident to support health and wellbeing, including how to spot signs of stress or burnout, will help team members access support or workplace adjustments at an early stage and prevent problems from escalating.

Organisations need a systematic approach to identify the main risks of workplace stress, for example by carrying out a stress risk assessment, employee surveys and focus groups and through line manager feedback.

Available wellbeing support, including occupational health or employee assistance programmes, should be outlined clearly in a company policy and be promoted regularly to all employees.

Rachel Suff is senior policy adviser for employment relations at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development