Employers Need to Address Issues of Stress At Work

A YouGov survey commissioned by the charity Mind in 2014 has reported that they found that 56% of those surveyed said that they find work either “very stressful” or “fairly stressful”. Worryingly, those 56% of people also said that they don’t feel able to tell their employer how they feel.

Most employers are likely to agree that having healthy and stress free employees is likely to lead to greater productivity and engagement as well as reducing the costs associated with stress related absences. This survey however is one of several recent surveys which highlights that the need for an improvement in how employers approach this issue.

Even though many accept that this is an issue which needs to be addressed, not enough of employers accept that this is something an employer should proactively address. In the past, employers have tended to just implement token gestures such as free fruit in the office or a subsidised gym membership but without really looking to address the issue of why their employees are suffering with stress at work in the first place.

There are a number of steps employers can take to help improve the mental wellbeing of their employees. Matthew Gregson, consulting director at Thomsons Online Benefits, suggests that stress management classes, massages and healthy eating programmes can help to lower stress among employees who may be feeling overworked or under pressure:

“Of course, an even better solution is to prevent stress becoming an issue in the first place,” he says. “This might mean leaders need to evaluate business practices, look at how these are increasing stress levels and take steps to rectify the problem. Offering flexible working can help, he adds, as this can help create a better work-life balance.”

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can also be provided by employers in an attempt to provide a confidential source of support for those feeling under pressure. Such programmes are often also available for employees to seek assistance in relation to stress arising from personal issues in addition to any workplace issues.

“In recent years, employers have made significant investment in support to address and manage mental health and stress in the workplace, and EAPs have become an integral part of this,” says Andrew Kinder, chairman of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association. “Offering confidential help this way is cost effective for employers and provides a high standard of professional advice that can be accessed, in most cases, faster through EAPs than through NHS primary care services.”

Other and more often viewed as alternative measures such as meditation services can also help. “Meditation is singularly the most powerful tool we have to assist us with our emotions and consequently our behaviour,” says Graham Doke, meditation expert and founder of the Anamaya app which is designed for employees to use in a lunch hour to unwind. He says: “Rather than being shunned, it should be actively promoted in the workplace.”

Encouragingly, Annie Broadbent, a counsellor at health and wellbeing workshop provider RESET, says she is seeing greater interest in mental health from employers, on the back of a number of recent high-profile campaigns:

“The Time To Change initiative is one example of the changing culture and perhaps even more encouraging is the City Mental Health Alliance,” she says. “These are important examples of the first important step to addressing the stigma around mental health, which is opening up the space to talk about it.”

In addition, Human Resources director Ann Brown quotes that the average number of days lost to mental health issues had fallen to 28.5 in 2014 compared with a national average of 45 in previous years: “Alongside this, we offer benefits for individual employees, including access to up to 10,000-worth of mental health medical cover, career breaks, the option to buy extra holiday, an EAP and occupational health service,” says Ms Brown. “Overall, we want to reduce the risk of mental-health issues causing employees to become ill and quickly rehabilitate those who are.”

From a legal perspective, employers have a duty of care to their employees to protect them from an injury to their health attributable to stress at work. There is a risk therefore that if employers fail to recognise and address such issues and subsequently fail in their duty of care, that they could be exposed to claims for compensation.

In such situations where an employer has failed in their duty of care, those suffering with work related stress may be able to claim compensation for the impact matters have had on their health, the cost of any necessary treatment on a private paying basis and lost earnings from their employer.

The legal position for those who have suffered or who are suffering with stress at work is complex.

Michael Lewin Solicitors are specialists in claims for work related stress.

If you believe that you would benefit from legal advice on this matter or believe you may have a claim against your employer, please call us on 0844 499 9302 or email stress@michaellewin.co.uk

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