In today’s society, stress is a typical response to the increasing demands and pressures in our lives and to be honest a small amount of stress isn’t actually a bad thing, keeping you on your toes and primed for action. However, too much stress can be very counterproductive and taken to the extreme, stress can tip us into very harmful territory, threatening our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing; so clearly stress is something we all need to understand and watch out for…

Physical and psychological signs of stress

Prolonged and excessive stress can have significant effect on a person’s psychological and physical wellbeing. Psychological signs of stress can include low self esteem, anxiety, irritability and feeling overwhelmed, whereas physical signs of stress can include chest pain, dizziness/feeling faint, frequent colds or infections, excessive sweating and insomnia. The physical responses to stress are due to the body’s automatic release of cortisol and adrenaline in response to apparent danger (or you may know it as the fight or flight response) and can make a person feel physically unwell and affect their long term health.

Signs of behavioural stress

Both the psychological and physical consequences of stress can lead to behavioural changes, some of which may be more noticeable in the workplace, including reduced concentration and motivation, shirking responsibility and poor performance.

When is stress a problem?

Stress becomes a problem when it drastically affects the emotional well-being of an individual and their ability to function at home, work, or in personal relationships.

What if an employee is suffering from stress?

Ok, whilst there is no definitive law in relation to an employer’s obligations to managing stress levels at work, under the Health & Safety at Work Act, employers have a responsibility to safeguard the health, safety and well-being of employees.

To make sure you are doing as much as you can to support your employees, below we outline some advice to follow:

1. Be observant

Nobody can now be ignorant to mental health issues, especially with the amount of coverage it commands in the media, but for many people, it can be a very difficult subject to bring up. But, if you want to be seen as being a responsible employer you should keep an eye out for employees displaying any of the above signs of stress and if you see someone struggling, you have a duty of care to address it.

2. Keep communication channels open

It doesn’t really matter how the issue is brought to your attention, the best thing you can do when talking with someone about their stress or mental health is to listen to what they have to say and support how they feel. Having symptoms acknowledged and taken seriously can make all the difference.

3. Implement practical steps to reduce stress

If you are in agreement that work is a contributing factor to an individuals’ stress levels, why not consider these practical steps:

  • flexible working
  • outlining clear roles and responsibilities
  • training or support to help manage workloads
  • introducing clear channels of communication or an different line management structure

4. Consider Employee Assistance Programs

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are a great way to offer support to your employees. They will often come in the form of a telephone helpline and/or website with the option of telephone and face-to-face counselling.  More importantly, if you end up with a dismissal or resignation related to mental health issues, getting and expert medical opinion and offering employees EAP will also show a tribunal that you have supported and gone a open-minded way to meet your duty of care as an employer.

Lastly, the pressures associated with work can increase over the school or summer holidays and make it particularly difficult time for those with underlying mental health issues or who suffer from stress. Whether this is due to an increased workload for those covering for colleagues on holiday or the stress of juggling work and childcare, things may get too much for some. So always keep a watchful eye over your team to make sure that no-one is suffering in silence.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues above, please get in contact, where one of our team will be happy to help.