How to tackle mental ill-health in your firm

Blogs 12 Sep 2022

Stress and mental ill-health are the most common reasons for long-term absence from work. Marcus Herbert from the British Safety Council shares how companies can reduce work-related stress.

Employer having conversation with employee

This article was first published in First Voice. Written by Marcus Herbert, Head of Wellbeing, British Safety Council.

In the last year, stress and mental ill-health (e.g. clinical depression and anxiety) have featured in the top five most common reasons for short-term absence from work (up to four weeks), and in the top three most common reasons for long-term absence from work (over four weeks).

This remains the case, despite mental health being the most common focus of health and wellbeing programmes in the workplace. So why is it that stress and mental ill health remain the top reasons for absence from work?

One explanation may be that it’s because companies are providing mental health support services to their staff after the problems have already occurred. Another reason might be that things happening in the employee’s personal life are impacting their ability to do work. It might be that the job itself or the people they work with are the reason for the stress and mental ill-health. Ultimately, we won’t know what the cause of the issues is without assessing the risk in the workplace.

Being able to understand what workplace factors impact the stress of the workforce will enable companies to make changes that reduce the risk of stress and mental ill-health occurring.

Reducing work-related stress is not only morally the right thing to do, but also a legal requirement. According to The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), the law requires employers to tackle hazards in the workplace, which includes work-related stress. There is a legal duty to review and assess the risk of ill-health caused by stress-related working activities and to implement measures to control the risk.

One of the ways in which companies can do this is to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of work-related stress and take action to tackle any problems identified by that risk assessment. The Health and Safety Executive have defined a set of management standards that outline the areas that should be considered to effectively assess the risk of work-related stress, which are detailed as follows:

  • Demands: workload, work patterns and the work environment
  • Control: how much autonomy an employee has
  • Support: encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the company, line management and colleagues
  • Relationships: promoting positive working to avoid conflict and poor behaviour
  • Role: whether employees understand their role within the company
  • Change: how the change in the company is managed and communicated

Once a company has gone through the process of assessing the risk of work-related stress, this is when the work truly begins. It is imperative that companies create an action plan to address things that may be causing work-related stress and regularly review the action plan to determine if the changes are being well received.

As previously noted, change within a company can be a source of work-related stress so being mindful of this is important when making changes to reduce work-related stress occurring.

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