Fast-paced complicated lives with often endless tasks, responsibilities, and commitments, can leave one overwhelmed and experiencing high levels of stress. Although stress is a normal psychological and physical response to the daily demands, long-term stress can be harmful to one’s health if it doesn’t get managed and addressed.
Stress in the workplace can be caused by numerous factors, such as excessive workloads, having to meet deadlines, interpersonal tension, conflict at work (i.e., bullying, harassment) lack of training, to name but a few. It can also be contributory to non-work factors, an unhealthy company culture, no or little work-life balance, lack of support from managers/management style or job uncertainty.
Stress is dangerous as it can be the cause of a physical medical condition such as a stroke or heart attack, and stress can lead to mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety.
Employees too need take care of themselves to address their stress. What is causing the stress? How do you cope with stress? Are you stressed by nature or did something or someone trigger it? How are you dealing with stress? Are you eating properly and healthy, exercising regularly, and staying hydrated?
Surveys record that stress and mental health issues in the workplace contributes to not only high absence levels (mental ill-health is the most common cause for long term absence with stress being the third (CIPD 2018)), but poor work performance and if not addressed, high staff turnover too. ONS Labour Force Survey revealed in 2020 that stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 11% of all work-related ill health cases and 59.2% of all working days lost in British workplaces due to ill health (17.1% of which was coronavirus-related illnesses during that time). Thus, employers need to take proactive and preventive measures rather than being reactive to manage stress in the workplace.
It is an implied duty (in an employment contract) and under the UK Health and Safety– and common law, that the employer is to provide employees with a safe place of work. It is an employer’s duty to take care of its employees. Employers are to be mindful that this includes a responsibility to protect employees from psychiatric harm. Failure to do so, construes a breach of care to aid an employee who suffers from stress, which may in turn lead to the employee resigning and claiming constructive unfair dismissal with compensation for negligence and breach of contract (circumstances dependent).
Legislation that influences stress in the workplace:
- Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (Section 2) (employers to provide and maintain systems of work safe and without risk to health)
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/3242) (stress related claims under the breach of the employer’s duties to assess the risk of stress related ill-health arising from work activities)
- Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (stress-related suicides by employees)
- Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (case: Veakins v Kier Islington Ltd (2010))
- Equality Act 2010 (disability discrimination)
Thus, developing and fostering mental health and well-being is vitally important in any organisation. Attend to risk assessments, provide support to employees with mental health concerns, train managers to identify, support and manage with view to reduce stress, get occupational health involved, encourage an open culture around mental health and consider reasonable adjustments (i.e., flexible hours/days of work) are but a few positive measures to consider.
Let us help you draft/update your company policies to cover employees’ mental health and wellbeing. We can also assist developing a framework to implement and deliver improved mental health and wellbeing throughout your organisation. If you would like assistance, please contact one of our employment law team at www.biscoes-law.co.uk, or on 02392 660261