Did you know that it is mental health awareness week? Are you aware that stress in the workplace can contribute to mental health problems in and outside of work? Are you aware of the cost that this could pose to your business?

I suspect that the answer to at least one of these questions is “no”.

Estimates suggest that the cost of stress in the workplace to the UK economy is anywhere between £4bn and £100bn a year. This is a result of sick days; presenteeism; lost productivity; management time dealing with absences and performance; and the cost of litigating on stress-related employment matters. The most common causes of work related stress are workload pressures; too much responsibility and lack of managerial support.

The Labour Force Survey reported that in 2015/16, there were 488,000 cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety. This is around 1.5 cases per 100 people. The numbers have changed little over the last decade highlighting that there is potentially more that can be done to tackle work related stress.

It is not only the immediate, obvious costs which should be considered. Whilst stress alone, without something more, is unlikely to be a classed as a disability, employers should be live to the fact that someone who appears to be stressed at work; who is taking more time off work than usual; or whose behaviour has changed in the workplace may actually suffer from an underlying mental health problem (which could be a disability under the Equality Act). If this is the case, a failure to tackle the problem risks a disability discrimination claim. Compensation in discrimination claims is uncapped and so the potential costs to the business are significant.

What can be done to reduce stress at work and minimise the risk of discrimination?

  • Ensure that there are open lines of communication with employees who should be encouraged to raise issues with their line manager / HR in the first instance.
  • Have an effective stress at work policy which details what an employee should do when suffering from stress and what sort of assistance is available. Confidential employee counselling services can be helpful.
  • Provide training for managers on spotting the signs of stress at work and dealing with difficult conversations. Couple this with equality training to improve awareness of mental health and stress at work. Highlight the risks associated with performance managing and disciplining employees who exhibit signs of stress or other mental health problems.
  • If a problem is raised and discussed, implement any necessary action points such as changing working responsibilities or providing additional supervision or training.
  • Conduct risk assessments in relation to individual roles and workplace conditions to identify and reduce stress hazards at work.