If an employee has voiced that they are feeling stressed it is key that you react with empathy, respond flexibly to their needs and respect confidentiality. If you need to seek advice about how to handle the issue organisations such as Mind and CIPD can give you support and resources to help you to support your employees. There are however some things that you can build into the culture of your organisation to help minimise stress in the workplace.
Train your managers and line managers
Managers know their employees best and it is important that they have the knowledge and confidence to be able to speak to members of their team about their mental health if they feel that they need to reach out and take the first step. Knowing the signs and causes of workplace stress will help them to notice changes in their staff’s behaviour and attitude and the look out for triggers of stress. If managers do not have sufficient training they may feel unable to take the lead and pursue more formal routes instead which may be counter-productive.
Encouraging your managers and line managers to hold regular one to one meetings with their staff to see how they are getting on gives employees the opportunity to be open about how they are coping and discuss any issues which might be affecting their mental health now or may affect it in the future if issues are not addressed or adjustments made.
Listen to your employees
To properly understand how an employee is feeling and to be able to address the factors that are causing them to feel stressed it is important to give them the opportunity and time to speak about how they feel and how they think that stress can be managed in the business. Only 40% of workers would trust their manager with a mental health concern and so open communication and good relationships between employers and employees are vital in providing a supportive environment for those who are experiencing a stressful time at work.
You could conduct a business wide survey to allow employees to anonymously tell you which factors in the workplace cause them to feel stressed and what they think could be done to help.
If an employee would like to speak to you face to face about the problems they are having make the time to meet with them, listen to them and work with them to find a solution that will help to reduce the stress they are experiencing.
Promote positive mental health and wellbeing in your business
In many workplaces mental health is still a taboo subject and when employees feel unable to talk to their managers about their mental health this is when problems can intensify. To change this there are several steps you could take to promote positive mental health and wellbeing and open up conversations amongst employees. These could include:
- Inform staff at induction about how mental health is managed in your organisation and what channels are available should they ever wish to discuss their mental health at work
- Use internal communications channels to raise awareness. This could be blogs on how to spot the signs and causes, factsheets, links to helpful webpages, posters etc.
- Ask if there are any employees willing to share a case study about their workplace mental health and how they manage stress
- Encourage staff to talk about mental health
- Hold focus groups or surveys to find out how staff feel workplace could be managed better
- Encourage staff to take part in exercise. You could set up internal fitness classes before or after working hours or a lunchtime walking club to get staff away from their desks and interacting with each another
Stress related absence and return to work plan
When stress is not managed well it can sometimes lead to staff being signed of work by their doctor. When this happens it is important that you let your employee know that you will support them during their absence and when they are ready to return to work. While they are away from work:
- Maintain communication with them and decide with them how often you will communicate and how
- During conversations focus on their wellbeing and make it clear that they should not push themselves to come back to work before they are ready
- Make sure they feel that their health and wellbeing is a priority, not work
- Keep them in the loop about any changes at work or with their colleagues so they continue to feel connected and part of the team
- Agree what they would like their colleagues to know about their absence
- Speak with your HR team to make sure you are taking appropriate action
- Consider visiting the employee with their consent and continue to invite them to any social events. Keeping in touch with work friends can lead to a smooth return to work so encourage their colleagues to ask how they are and keep in touch with them too
When they are ready to return to work:
- Let them know that they have been missed and make sure they understand the return to work procedures
- Ask if they would prefer to have a phased return so that they are not overwhelmed by coming back full time straight away
- Discuss what may have caused them to feel stressed and make reasonable adjustments to minimise the chances of this happening again
- Reassure them that you are available to talk to them and are willing to work with them to find solutions
- Give them plenty of opportunity and space to talk to you about how they are coping