Work-related stress: What employers can do about it

stress relief

New statistics released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal the true extent - and the real cost - of the UK’s work-related stress problem, and they make for grim reading. The statistics look at the nature of self-reported work-related illnesses, showing that many industry sectors are effectively losing a million or more working days a year as a result of stress, depression or anxiety.

The sector-by-sector breakdown reveals that some industries are more prone to workers suffering from work-related stress than others. The following statistics shows the percentage of days lost to stress, depression and anxiety:

-       Construction industry: 20% of the 69,000 self-reported illnesses, contributing to 1.2 million working days lost.

-       Transport sector: 30% of 51,000 illnesses

-       Manufacturing industry: 31% of 80,000 people who’ve self-reported illnesses say they’ve suffered work-related stress, depression and anxiety, contributing to 2.1 million lost working days

-       Education sector: that percentage rises to a whopping 49% of 112,000 self-reported illnesses, resulting in 0.9 million lost working days

-       Healthcare: 46% of 186,000 self-reported illnesses, leading to 2.9 million lost working days

-       Public administration sector: 52% of the 78,000 self-reported illnesses were identified as stress, depression and anxiety, contributing to a further 1.1 million lost working days.

work related stress

It’s clear that work-related stress, anxiety and depression are real problems, but what can be done about it? While employees can take their own steps towards handling their own stress levels when they’re in the office, it’s employers who have the power to make a real difference in eliminating the possible causes of stress in their organisation.

Reducing stress in the workplace: 5 tips for employers

If you’re an employer, you can do your bit to ensure that your employees don’t suffer from workplace stress by following these five tips.

1. Become a mindful employer

Never be tempted to rest on your laurels as an employer. Attend regular line manager training to ensure that you’re continually reviewing and improving your own management practices, so that you’re not inadvertently contributing to rising stress levels.

2. Encourage open discussion

Keep the lines of communication open in your workplace, encouraging transparent discussion of any issues before they get blown out of proportion or take too great a toll on your workforce. This could be as simple as verbally encouraging employees to email you with feedback, but you could also take steps such as implementing a suggestions box or sending out a survey in which employees can air concerns anonymously if they don’t feel able to talk to someone senior about a problem.

3. Encourage regular breaks and improve the working environment

Make sure that staff know that it’s fine for them to take regular breaks from their desks, which is important for physical as well as psychological well-being. Small improvements to the office environment can also make a big difference - for example, you could install a water cooler, regulate room temperature with better air conditioning, or provide a ‘chill-out room’ with comfortable chairs where employees can rest during lunch breaks. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this; you could simply provide a perk such as free tea, coffee and biscuits to let employees know that they’re valued and make them feel looked after.

4. Keep a careful eye on workloads and targets

Excessive levels of pressure can lead to work-related stress and anxiety, so ensure that you regularly review employees’ targets and workloads to make sure that they are realistic and fair. Again, keep communication open and let employees give you feedback on how they’re managing their own workloads.

5. Get to know your employees

Everyone handles stress differently, and getting to know your employees as individuals will enable you to recognise how the potential signs of stress may manifest themselves differently from one person to the next. From there, you’re in a better position to spot when stress may be a problem and you can do something about it before you start losing working days to employee illness.

The HSE has lots more advice for how those in senior leadership roles can work together to tackle work-related stress in their organisation, and from the look of those statistics, change can’t come soon enough.

Author Bio: Emma Bennett works for High Speed Training, a UK based online learning company that offer various business safety and employee wellbeing related courses.