Stress is a typical response to an increase in the demands and pressures in our lives. And a small amount of stress isn’t actually a bad thing. It’s good for instilling a sense of urgency, keeping you on your toes and primed for action. But too much stress is counterproductive – and extreme stress can tip us over into very dangerous territory indeed. It can threaten our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing; damage our performance and erode our relationships. Stress is something we all need to understand and watch out for…
The Psychological & Physical Signs Of Stress
Prolonged and/or excessive stress can have significant consequences on a person’s psychological as well as their physical wellbeing. Psychological consequences of stress include irritability, anxiety, low self esteem, and feeling overwhelmed. Physical signs of stress include chest pain, dizziness/feeling faint, hair loss, excessive sweating and insomnia. Experts believe these physical responses to stress are due to the body’s automatic release of cortisol and adrenaline in response to perceived danger (the fight or flight response). Producing high amounts of these hormones can make a person feel physically unwell and affect their long term physical health.
Behavioural Signs Of Stress
These psychological and physical consequences of stress can lead to behavioural changes, some of which may be noticeable in the workplace such as reduced concentration and motivation, shirking responsibility and poor performance.
So When Does Stress Become A Problem?
Stress becomes a problem when it significantly affects the emotional well-being of the individual and/or their ability to function at home, work, or in personal relationships.
What To Do If An Employee Is Suffering From Stress
Whilst there is no specific law in relation to an employer’s obligations to managing stress levels at work, under the Health & Safety at Work Act, employers have a responsibility to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of staff.
As such, we would recommend the following approach:
1. Keep Your Eyes Open
Despite the increased coverage of stress and mental health issues in the media recently, for many people it’s a very difficult subject to bring up. But, as a responsible employer you should keep an eye out for employees displaying any of the psychological, physical or behavioural signs of stress mentioned above. And if you see someone struggling, you have a responsibility to address it.
2. Have Open Dialogue
Whether you bring it up or they come to you, the best thing you can do when talking with someone about their stress or mental health is to listen to what they have to say and validate how they feel. Having their symptoms acknowledged and taken seriously can make all the difference.
3. Bring In Practical Steps to Reduce Work Stress
If you both feel that work is a contributing factor to an individuals’ stress levels consider practical steps such as
- flexible working
- clarifying roles and responsibilities
- training or support to help manage their workload
- introducing new channels of communication or an alternative line management structure
4. Consider Getting External Help
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are a great way to offer support to your staff. They will often come in the form of a telephone helpline and/or website with the option of telephone and face-to-face counselling. There are companies that provide these services and they often aren’t too expensive. And as a bonus, some schemes will offer you additional services such as employment law or tax advice. If someone is seriously affected and taking time off, work you can also look at setting up occupational health referrals, whereby you will pay a health professional to meet with the employee and make an assessment about how best to deal with the employee. Health insurers like BUPA and other employee wellbeing companies can help set these up for a fee. Importantly with both of these suggestions, if you end up further down the road with a dismissal or resignation related to mental health issues, getting and expert medical opinion and offering staff an EAP will also show to a tribunal that you have supported your team and that you have gone a fair way to meet your ‘duty of care’ as an employer.
For many, pressures associated with work can increase over the summer holidays and make it a particularly difficult time of year for those with mental health issues or who suffer from stress. Whether this is due to an increased workload for those covering for colleagues on holiday or the stress of juggling work and child care when the kids are off school - things may get too much for some. So keep a watchful eye over your team over the next few weeks and make sure no one’s suffering in silence.
For further advice and support on any other HR issues contact theHRhub today on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org