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April is Stress Awareness Month

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Workplace stress statistics are staggering. Did you know that stress, depression and anxiety accounts for 44% of work-related ill health and 57% of working days lost in 2017/18? Workload, lack of managerial support, interpersonal relationships and organisational change are the main causes, and its prevalence is higher amongst women and greater in large employers. Professional occupations statistically have significantly higher rates of stress, depression and anxiety when compared to all other occupations. Unsurprisingly, the sectors reporting the highest rates are health and public services, including education.

Is the stress phenomenon something new?

The simple answer is no. However, what is noticeable is that since 2001-2, the recorded rates of stress were broadly static, but since 2014-15, there has been an upward trend. I suspect that the temptation to be connected to the workplace 24/7 is changing the balance between work and life, leaving inadequate head space to recharge and unwind.

Warning signs

It is all too easy for warning signs to go unnoticed. And this is where managers have a vital role to play by being proactive in identifying when someone may not be themselves and where extra support may be required. It´s my Stop, Look and Listen mantra which I use to navigate through the sensitive issue of mental wellbeing, further details of which are in my blog post It’s Time to Talk but it’s also time to Stop, Look & Listen.

To help managers identify the warning signs of stressed staff, Acas has produced some useful guidance:

  • Changes in the person’s usual behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues.
  • Changes in the standard of their work or their focus on tasks.
  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and having a reduced interest in tasks they previously enjoyed.
  • Changes in appetite and/or increase in smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • An increase in sickness absences and/or turning up late to work.

Managers should start by having an informal chat to see if anything is going on. Ask how the individual is doing, and explain the reason for their concern. Give the individual the space to reflect and speak at their own pace. It may be that the individual has no insight into their current mental wellbeing. As a manager, there may be immediate steps you can take to reduce stress, including reducing their workload, supervision or support or offering a couple of days rest and recuperation. There may also be workplace resources to which they can be referred, such as outplacement counselling or occupational health

Whatever the problem, don’t just have the conversation and assume the problem is fixed. Check-in periodically and keep the situation under review.

Acas guidance can be found here.