Stress in the workplace: How to tackle the taboo topic

With one in five people in the UK taking at least one day off a year due to stress, and even more worryingly 93% of these lying about the reason for their absence, it’s clear that mental illness is both increasingly prevalent and yet still a taboo subject.

shutterstock_374136763Kevin Rogers, CEO of Paycare – a not-for-profit health cover provider – outlines the impact of mental health on not only the employee, but the business as a whole, explains how companies can up their game to ensure their workforce feel empowered and supported, and discusses what measures they can put in place to ultimately ensure a happier, healthier and more profitable bottom-line.  

“Workplace stress was one of the big talking points for employers in 2015, and the spotlight is shining on it even more so this year,” explained Kevin. “Stress is a serious employment issue which can insidiously eat away at profits, productivity, and efficiency, and ultimately be the reason why businesses lose valued staff. So what is stress? What should and could employers do about it? And how can it be managed?

Unlike physical ailments, illnesses, or injuries, mental health can’t be seen, which can lead to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. However, for an individual, the presence of a mental health issue can have a significant impact on their confidence, self-esteem, concentration, and motivation. From an employer’s perspective, the impact of a member of the team’s poor mental health can include lower productivity levels, diminished morale (both in terms of the individual and the wider team, and subsequently reduced profits.

Despite the negative impact of poor mental health being hugely evident, what’s clear is that there are often two major barriers to managing stress and mental health. The first is a lack of proper understanding of the issue and mental health as a whole, with employers not feeling confident enough to act appropriately, and therefore shying away from it. The second is when an employer does have an understanding but isn’t willing to delve any deeper to solve issues, and therefore looks elsewhere for blame such as performance-based or operational issues. 

There are, however, huge opportunities for an employer to break down these barriers though, and to ultimately improve the wellbeing of their teams and therefore profitability, and it can simply be done with an openness to approaching the subject head-on. Managers in particular can monitor their team’s workloads more closely, increase communication efforts, and make small changes to their behaviour to appear more approachable to others – who otherwise might see them as being too busy to interrupt.

Training managers and employers to spot the early signs of mental health issues is also crucial. BT’s three-tiered strategy to tackling stress and mental health issues in the workplace has already paid huge dividends. It includes offering advice, guidance and tips on the internet, skills sessions, and training for managers to spot signs and understand the support and treatment available. As a result of its innovative approach, stress and anxiety sick leave has fallen significantly, including by 24% in just one area.

Another way in which businesses can support their teams is by putting an Employee Assistance Programme in place, which offers staff the opportunity to seek help from independent professionals on a private and confidential basis.

It’s ultimately not about managers training to become therapists and psychiatrists, but so much more about encouraging them to get their head out of the sand, realising it’s a very real problem that’s having a major effect on their business, and seeking readily-available training, advice, and guidance to help them support their teams in becoming happier, mentally healthier, and more productive,” concluded Kevin.