Mental Health in the Workplace

The 10th of October was World Mental Health Day, giving much needed exposure to a very important issue. But employers must remember that mental health problems can affect anyone on any day.

Over 11 million days are lost at work every year because of stress related illness at work at an estimated cost of £5 billion in Great Britain alone. There is therefore a financial as well as legal incentive to meet your duty to assess the risks to your employees from work-related stress and manage it effectively.

Employers should look for signs of stress in their team as a whole and in the individual. The earlier an issue is identified and tackled the less impact it will have on the individual and your business.

Signs of stress within a team may present as arguments, high staff turnover, reports of stress, sickness absence, decreased performance or an increase in complaints and grievances.

Signs of stress in an individual employee can be taking more time off, arriving late to work, appearing twitch or nervous, mood swings, becoming withdrawn, loss of motivation, commitment or confidence, or an increase in emotional reactions.

The HSE’s Management Standards identifies six key areas of work design which if not properly managed are associated with the primary sources of stress at work:

  1. Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment.

  2. Control – How much say do the people have over the way they work?

  3. Support – Includes encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.

  4. Relationship – Includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.

  5. Role – Do people understand their role within the organisation and does the organisation ensure roles are not conflicting?

  6. Change – How is organisational change (large and small) managed and communicated?

Employers should assess the risk in these areas and develop ways of managing stress in the workplace.

In short stress is a hazard to your staff like any other and must be risk assessed, removed if possible or measures put in place to mitigate the impact. The HSE has published a number of guides to assist you tackle stress in the work place. But the first step is to talk, talk to your staff, ensure that they are aware that you are open to hear their concerns and remove the stigma often attached to stress.

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