January may be gone, but it’s still a new year and a new start! That’s what I always like to think anyway and it helps me to plan for the coming year and think about what I want to achieve.

However, some employees may be carrying some “baggage” around with them from last year – January and February are notorious for marital splits, depression and financial worries (paying off the debts of Christmas etc).

So, what can you do as an employer to help your employees manage in difficult times? Well, first of all, it’s useful to know what stress is and what it looks like.

You can also read the article online by clicking on the linkhttp://yorkshiretimes.co.uk/article/How-To-Deal-With-Stress-In-The-Workplace–Top-Tips-For-Employers

Definition of stress

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) definition of stress is; “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed on them at work.”

Pressure vs stress

Let’s be clear that feeling stressed and feeling under pressure are two different things. Stress is when a person feels that they can no longer cope, it all becomes too much. Pressure is something that we all feel from time to time – some people actually work better under a little pressure, but too much can turn into stress.

What does stress look like?

Symptoms of stress can be different from person to person, but typical examples are feeling negative, withdrawn, crying, shaking, not being able to sleep, lack of concentration, changing eating habits, drinking or smoking more, mood swings, lack of motivation.

The role of employers in managing stress

We all have a different “tipping point” and what might be “stress” to one employee may not be to another. Employers should be aware of the six factors that the HSE have identified which can lead to work-related stress if they are not managed effectively. They are:

Bullet point - ArrowDemands – can the employee cope with the demands of their job?
Bullet point - ArrowControl – do employees have a say in how they do their work?
Bullet point - ArrowSupport – are employees supported by management and their colleagues?
Bullet point - ArrowRelationships – do good working relationships exist between employees and managers?
Bullet point - ArrowRole – do employees understand their role and responsibilities?
Bullet point - ArrowChange – if the business is going through a period of change, are employees engaged in the process and understand the reasons why?

All of the above factors are of course inter-related, but they are a good benchmark for employers to bear in mind when ensuring that the duty of care to the mental health and wellbeing of employees is carefully considered.

Specifically, I would suggest that as a minimum employers:

Bullet point - ArrowCommunicate regularly with employees, be approachable, have an “open door” policy and ensure early intervention if there is a problem
Bullet point - ArrowMonitor workloads and review these regularly to ensure that they are not excessive
Bullet point - ArrowDon’t regard stress as a “weakness”; encourage open discussion on possible sources of pressure within teams and take action where required
Bullet point - ArrowHave job descriptions in place to outline roles and key responsibilities and ensure that employees are clear about them
Bullet point - ArrowTackle poor performance and attendance and investigate if stress is a potential causing factor
Bullet point - ArrowAlways have a “return to work” chat when an employee has been off sick – regardless of the length of absence
Bullet point - ArrowHave a performance-management process in place, even if very basic, to ensure that you regularly review performance and achievements or lack of performance
Bullet point - ArrowBe aware that change always has an impact on employees, however small the change may be – ensure you talk any changes through with employees
Bullet point - ArrowBe open with your business strategy, your plans for the future and what is happening in the business right now
Bullet point - ArrowConsider if any learning and development is required for employees if they seem to be struggling with their job role.

Finally, consider having a Stress Policy in place that covers some of the above, which is visible to employees – they need to know whom to turn to and what to do if they need help!

For further details and advice contact Helen Straw at Helen@thepersonnelpartnership.co.uk

Helen Straw is the founder and managing director of The Personnel Partnership based in Holmfirth, which provides bespoke HR services on both an operational and strategic level for businesses nationwide.