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Under Pressure

Under Pressure back to list

06 August 2019

In 2017/18, 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety*

Believe it or not, a bit of stress is actually good for us and can help maintain motivation, but excessive and prolonged stress can cause all sorts of problems, both for employees and employers.

Managers should be alert to the possibility of stress where there are marked changes in behaviour, or if employees are under particular pressure. Key signs can include increased emotional reactions, lack of concentration and poor performance. The key is to be aware of changes to an individual’s behaviour, and to encourage the employee to seek advice from a GP, who will be able to make a proper diagnosis.

If you learn that an employee is experiencing stress, it’s a good idea to meet with the employee. Once you’ve established the reasons behind the stress, you should consider what steps the company could take to alleviate the situation. These include a phased return to work (following sickness absence), redistribution of some of the employee’s workload, a temporary or permanent change in duties, offering the employee unpaid or paid leave, providing training for the employee, and referring the employee for counselling.

Employee assistance providers can be an excellent source for referring an employee for counselling. It might be appropriate for you to consider paying for the individual to undergo private counselling, particularly if the stress is directly work-related, is having a severe impact on the individual’s health and has been exacerbated by the employer’s failure to take action sooner.

Where stress causes an employee to take sickness absence, regular contact with the employee should help to keep the manager up to date on the employee’s circumstances, and to explore what the company could do to help the employee return to work.

Depressive illnesses

Under the Equality Act 2010, stress does not amount to a disability, but a stress-related condition, or a preexisting condition exacerbated by stress, could amount to a disability, provided that it has a long-term and substantially adverse effect on the individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Depressive illnesses are among the most common examples of stress-related conditions.

It is unlawful to discriminate against a disabled employee, or to harass or victimise an employee on these grounds. Employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments in relation to disabled employees to assist them in carrying out their duties. Appropriate adjustments could include reducing working hours, reallocating job duties, and providing additional support or supervision. Steps you can take to help to prevent stress include:

- Encouraging communication (within the team)

- Fostering good relations with employees

- Ensuring that employees have an appropriate amount of work to do

- Taking regular meetings with employees

- Ensuring that individuals take proper breaks

- Conducting regular performance reviews

- Providing appropriate training

- Being alert to stress during periods of change

- Recruiting employees who have the skills needed to perform the role

Remember that the legal consequences of failing to act could be highly significant and the liability potentially unlimited, including personal injury claims, unfair dismissal, and disability discrimination claims. Don’t get stressed - deal with any stress-related issue in a professional and sympathetic way.

For further information, please contact John Cadman, BOSS Federation HR Adviser, at [email protected] 

*Labour Force Survey statistics


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