May 10, 2018

Mental Health Awareness Week: Keeping your Employees Safe from Work-Related Stress

As we approach Mental Health Awareness Week (14 to 20 May 2018) employers should be well aware that stress in the workplace can contribute to mental health problems in and outside of work – and these health issues can be costly to your business as well as your people.

But how many employers think of mental health as a health & safety issue?

In November 2017 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published figures showing 12.5 million working days were lost in 2016/17 as a result of work-related stress, depression or anxiety – an increase of over a million days on the previous year.

Estimates suggest that the cost of stress in the workplace to the UK economy is anywhere between £4bn and £100bn a year, a result of:

  • sick days
  • presenteeism
  • lost productivity
  • management time dealing with absences and performance
  • the cost of litigating on stress-related employment matters

The most common causes of work-related stress are workload pressures, too much responsibility, and a lack of managerial support, while professionals are almost four-times more likely to suffer work-related stress than those in skilled trades – and almost twice as likely as their bosses:

professionals are almost four-times more likely to suffer work-related stress than those in skilled trades

What are the numbers behind this trend?

The Labour Force Survey reported that, in 2016/17, there were 526,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety – an increase from the previous year’s figure of 488,000.

This is more than 1.5 cases per 100 people, and the numbers have changed little over the last decade. Indeed, depression is now the third most common cause of ill health in the UK after neck and back pain and skin diseases.

With stress, anxiety and depression accounting for 40 per cent of all work-related illnesses and almost half of all workdays lost to ill health, clearly there is more that can be done to tackle work-related stress.

Presenteeism is a modern (and growing) part of the problem

In addition to absenteeism, presenteeism – where workers are in work when they shouldn’t be – is also having a big impact on employee health, and employer profitability.

With presenteeism having tripled since 2010, mental health issues linked to it are thought to cost employers around £600 per employee per year, independent of any other costs associated with sickness.

Indeed, presenteeism can often lead to problems getting worse before employees seek help, leading to longer recuperation times as a result.

A management problem – especially with uncapped compensation when employers get their approach wrong

Mental health issues are obviously bad for the employee and the business, and they can also escalate into a grievance and discrimination claim if managed poorly.

While stress alone is unlikely to be a classed as a disability, employers should know that someone who appears to be stressed at work, is taking more time off work than usual, or whose behaviour has changed in the workplace may actually suffer from an underlying mental health problem – which could be a disability under the Equality Act.

If this is the case, a failure to tackle the problem by the employer risks a disability discrimination claim, and compensation in discrimination claims is uncapped. The potential additional costs to the business are significant.

Keeping your employees safe from mental health risks

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to undertake risk assessments, and this includes an assessment of the risk of employees suffering from work-related stress.

For a long time the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) left alone the management of stress and mental health, seeing it as more of a HR than H&S function.

But in March 2017 they launched a new strategy to tackle stress and mental health in the workplace, focused on identifying risk factors and preventing or reducing the likelihood of employees suffering work-related stress.

The HSE plan is to empower employers through support, guidance and training, rather than police positive mental health through enforcement action. However they are clear they are ‘back in the game’, with Inspectors looking for policies and procedures which effectively identify and reduce the likelihood of stress in the workplace.

What can be done to reduce stress at work and minimise the risk of discrimination?

Considers these five steps as a starting point for reducing the risk of work-related stress in your workplace:

  1. Ensure that there are open lines of communication with employees who should be encouraged to raise issues with their line manager or HR in the first instance
  2. Have an effective stress at work policy which details what an employee should do when suffering from stress and what sort of assistance is available. Confidential employee counselling services can be helpful
  3. Provide training for managers on spotting the signs of stress at work and dealing with difficult conversations. Couple this with equality training to improve awareness of mental health and stress at work. Highlight the risks associated with performance managing and disciplining employees who exhibit signs of stress or other mental health problems
  4. If a problem is raised and discussed, implement any necessary action points such as changing working responsibilities or providing additional supervision or training
  5. Conduct risk assessments in relation to individual roles and workplace conditions to identify and reduce stress hazards at work

Moorepay H&S customers should use the toolkits available in the HR Hub for help and guidance in reducing work-related stress, or speak to the Advice Line for specific advice on your circumstances by calling 0845 073 0240 (select option 1).

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About the author

Philip Barker

About the author

Philip Barker

Philip has worked for Moorepay for over nine years, starting as a Health & Safety Consultant in February 2008 before taking up the position of Consultancy Manager in January 2015. Coming from a retail background, both as a store manager and health & safety professional, he already had a good cross industry experience. Working at Moorepay has provided an opportunity to broaden both knowledge and experience across a wide range of industry sectors. Philip started his health & safety career after a number of years managing retail stores and holds a HNC in Environmental Health Studies, a Diploma in Environmental Policy and a NEBOSH Diploma.

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