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Stress in the Workplace

Opinion Written by on 23rd July 2014. Reading time: 4 minutes

Stressed EmployeeStress seems to be the one word that reduces otherwise competent managers to gibbering wrecks. It's every manager's nightmare.

There is a direct link between stress and long term sickness absence. Where someone is signed off with stress it normally becomes a long-term issue. All too soon several months have gone by and nothing has been done. It then becomes more difficult to take action. Not only do you have an employee who has been away from work for months, but those covering the work become more and more frustrated at the extra effort needed. Ultimately you then may have to recruit a temporary person to cover the workload. All in all it’s a very problematic area that is complex and difficult to solve simply. There is however a simple model that can be applied. This blog introduces and defines stress and then sets out a simple procedure for managing employees suffering stress.

Calculating the Cost of Sickness Absence

The most difficult thing about stress and long term absence from work that might be caused by stress is identifying when to act. Let’s look at it from the viewpoint of money.

So how do you work out the cost to the firm of having someone off sick? Let’s assume you have a member of staff who earns £20,000 per annum. The average level of sickness per employee per year is 7.4 days (according to CIPD figures). Let’s now calculate the impact on the firm on salary alone.

Day rate = £77
7.7 days sickness = £569.80
If of course we consider all employment costs, the real cost can be up to double that.

So if the employee is ‘normal’ we lose about £500. Perhaps that’s tolerable.

Consider now if the employee is off for longer. Stress is something for which GPs routinely prescribe rest and hence work absence. If an employee goes back to their GP saying they still can’t cope with life or work or both, they routinely get signed off for a month at a time. This reflects in turn the average stress related absence statistic of 30.1 days.

Now assume a three-month sickness absence (perhaps because you failed to act to manage the absence). This equals a loss of approximately sixty working days at a cost of £4,620.

We can see that the cost of taking no action soon mounts up. And now the issue. If you found that this amount of money was being wasted or was likely to be wasted in your firm you would most likely take speedy action to deal with the problem before the loss reached this level!! Absence through stress can be considered in the same way. Early action is essential.

Defining Stress

According the the Heath & Safety Executive (HSE) stress is “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other type of demand placed on them”. Stress can lead to depression and anxiety. It has also been linked to heart disease, headaches, back ache and drug and alcohol abuse.

The HSE goes on to say that “there is a clear distinction between pressure, which can create a ‘buzz’ and be a motivating factor, and stress, which can occur when this pressure becomes excessive”.

Stress can of course be ‘work related’ or be as a result of the pressures of life. Work related stress needs careful management.

The HSE has developed “The Management Standards” which have been designed to identify sources of stress and support a managed reduction in work-based stress. The six standards are shown in the diagram adjacent. Further information on the standards is available from the HSE.

The standards relate to job design. Sound job design must be effective in firms in order to minimise the risk of work-based stress. The HSE recommends that a risk assessment should be carried out for all aspects of the role. They also recommend that a Stress Policy be implemented.

Managing Stress Related Sickness Absence

According to CIPD’s 2010 Absence Management Annual Survey Report at least 30% of the employers taking part in the survey stated that stress related absence had increased in the last year. The main causes of stress at work were listed as high work load, poor external relationships, restructure and ineffective management style.

It is important to have a process that triggers action when an employee is absent for a specified period of time. The process must deal with both short-term and long-term absence and hence it will have two strands that run side-by-side to manage all absenting employees.

ACAS recommends that policies and procedures are developed to ensure that all sickness absence is managed and communication is maintained with the absent employee. They also suggest that the way the firm behaves is important. It’s fine to have procedures but they must be implemented consistently and compassionately.

Dealing with work-related stress early on has many benefits. Acting early causes all employees to feel that you care about their welfare and as a result their performance will improve. Managing stress early means less sickness absence. Your efforts, and those of your employees can be channelled into positive actions designed to drive your business forward.

Recommended Approach

TimelessTime recommends that you:

  • Complete a stress audit - find out your susceptibility to stress-related absence;
  • Have a clear policy for dealing with work-related stress;
  • Include an employee assistance scheme whereby staff can get confidential help;
  • Communicate your policy to all;
  • Then act on it and manage all instances; and
  • Monitor all absences and where stress-related, implement further initiatives that will lower pressure.

If you have staff who have been off sick for more than a couple of weeks you should be pro-actively dealing with the absence. If you aren’t doing this then you leave yourself open to problems in a few months time. Act now - it will be beneficial for you and for your employee.

Give us a call if you have a current issue you want to discuss. Remember also that stress can be reduced by job design and by achieving employee engagement. Call us to discuss how you can make your firm less susceptible to stress disorders and hence how to resolve stress-related issues before they become an absence issue.

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