Stress has, for the first time, taken over from back pain as the chief cause of long-term absence (source: CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Survey October 2011). Exacerbating the issue appears to be the current economic climate, where people are facing sustained pressure, change and uncertainty at work.
Unlike other illnesses, stress can be more difficult (but not impossible) to see coming and for many, it proves a misunderstood and slippery issue to deal with. Cancer can be long-term, debilitating and progressive. We all know about it, we all fear it and we are all sympathetic. With a broken leg, we understand at once what this is and can acknowledge that this may require adjusted duties, medication and time off. Stress has proved to be more of a challenge.
Stress potentially straddles two areas of law: disability discrimination legislation and health and safety law. It can also cost your businesses serious money through sickness absence, disengaged colleagues and in defending cases where you are exposed. It is therefore important to address; so what will help you to manage stress at work?
- First, prevention, communication and education – do risk assessments to highlight areas of concern, increase understanding of what stress is, how it manifests itself and what steps can be taken. Consider introducing support mechanisms such as counselling and employee assistance.
- Second, identify issues and recovery/support plans, seek specialist advice and take steps to prevent a recurrence (because once you are aware there is an issue, you are responsible for addressing it and preventing repeat occurrences).
- Third, monitor progress of individuals and make any appropriate adjustments you can.
- Fourth, review again and seek further advice to enable you to make appropriate decisions taking business needs and the capabilities of the individual (as advised by medical practitioners as well as by themselves) into account.
Finally, if you remain in doubt about the merits of tackling stress, remember that by ignoring it, the issues and your liabilities will almost certainly increase. Stress management is not easy but it is, like any other condition, capable of being managed within the confines of the law.