“While workplace wellbeing has been the focus for some time, there is increasing concern about the impact the current pandemic is having on employees’ mental health and the long-term socio-economic consequences.”
Even before the pandemic commentators were annually referencing the millions of days lost due to work-related stress and the need for action. By the time the pandemic hit us many employers already recognised that they could no longer afford to ignore the problem and mental wellbeing needed to be treated as a high priority. The pandemic has only served to magnify the problem as it has created new triggers that need to be assessed and managed.
Understanding your obligations
Unfortunately, the law on stress is not set out in one place and is piecemeal, which means it is often difficult for employers to fully appreciate the scope of their obligations. Duties are set out in various pieces of legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. A further dimension is added as employers also have implied duties, including for example, the obligation to provide a safe system of work, which encompasses protecting employees’ physical and mental well-being. Taking these duties as a whole, employers must ensure that their staff are not exposed to excessive levels of stress when at work.
What issues should we be aware of?
A nod to these legal duties in terms of working practices may minimise the risk of a legal claim but may not provide the support staff need.
When tackling the issue prior to the pandemic, management would be faced with stress triggers such as excessive workloads, long hours, bullying and harassment. While these triggers remain, an employer’s need to respond to operational and financial challenges has meant different challenges for its employees too. The most common concerns currently being raised are increased workloads with fewer resources, having to adapt to new working patterns or types of work with little support or time to adjust, home working which gives rise to feelings of isolation or the fear of being made redundant.
The impact of ignoring these factors is two-fold. From a social perspective, individuals will suffer from ill health. From a financial and operational perspective staff retention, engagement, attendance and productivity are all likely to be impacted in a negative way.
Taking small steps can make all the difference
“A small shift in approach can make all the difference to the lives of those who are suffering from stress. From a business perspective there will be better staff retention and engagement, improved attendance levels and increased productivity.”
Given the scale of the problem, employers need to act. A shift in approach does not need to involve a large amount of time and resources. As a starting point, there are some simple but effective strategies that can be adopted:
- Assess the main risks and possible areas for concern on a regular basis.
- Introduce clear wellbeing polices which create a supportive working culture.
- Train managers and supervisors to spot the warning signs and intervene early.
- Encourage more conversations about stress. Talking will help you to understand the causes and therefore put in place the right support when it is most needed.
- Signpost employees to the support that is available, including expert resources if professional help is needed.
While these simple steps may not provide the total solution an employer who is prepared to recognise the issue and work with their employees is likely to experience lower absence rates and increased staff morale.
FG Solicitors is an expert in helping its clients address its employment law and people management issues that the current pandemic has raised so they have greater certainty over their financial and operational outcomes.
If you would like to discuss how to implement a workplace stress management plan for your organisation and understand the benefits of doing so, please feel free to call us on 0808 172 9322 for a no obligation discussion.
For further details about the legal services and assistance we provide to businesses, please click here.
This publication is for general guidance only. Advice should be taken in relation to a particular set of circumstances.