Recruitment column: What employers can do about work stress

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Stress at work is a big topic for 2016, with mental health awareness in the workplace becoming a key concern for businesses around the country, and ‘employee engagement’ the new favourite phrase for almost every HR department.

With almost a third of organisations saying they have seen an increase in stress-related absence over the past 12 months, and 37 per cent of all work-related ill-health cases being caused by stress, what seem to be the main causes, and what can employers do to reduce the problem?

Training for line managers is essential to ensure that delicate issues are being dealt with appropriately.

Workload: A high workload often means working extra hours to keep on top of things. It has been shown that organisations who say they have a long working hours culture are more likely to report they’ve seen an increase in stress-related absence.

When ‘workload’ is mentioned, it tends to mean having too much, however there is also research into the effects of boredom at work, and having too little to do or unchallenging work. Andrew Yap, assistant professor at INSEAD, proposes that stress related to boredom can lead to counterproductive behaviour such as aimlessly surfing the internet.

Non-work Factors: It is not as easy as it sounds to leave personal issues at the door when you come to work, and they will inevitably have an impact on the way you behave at work.

Many employers are supporting staff in this respect, with well-being benefits provided including counselling services and employee assistance programmes.

Two-fifths of organisations said they use flexible working to help identify and reduce stress in the workplace, however fewer employers are offering leave for family circumstances to manage absences.

The key here is to keep communicating to employees what the organisation provides and reviewing what they offer to ensure they are effectively managing any current issues. The other focus should be on ensuring that employees are aware of how confidential the services being offered are.

Management style: The role of manager is critical in creating a healthy workplace where employee well-being and stress related issues are taken seriously.

Managers tend to be the first port of call for any employee requests, workload issues or absences. As such, managers need to feel confident and capable of having potentially sensitive conversations with staff, and to know exactly the ways in which the organisation can support them.

Training for line managers is essential to ensure that delicate issues are being dealt with appropriately.