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TEAM Talks: Stress Awareness Month 2024 – Prioritising Mental Health and Wellbeing

Stress Awareness Month 2024: Prioritising Mental Health and Wellbeing

Monday  15th April, 2024

Illustration by TEAM Safety Services Ltd.

In today's fast-paced world, stress and its toll on mental health continue to pose significant challenges. Despite our awareness of these issues, the separation of mental and physical health remains prevalent. However, it's imperative to recognise that they are intertwined facets of our overall well-being. As we observe Stress Awareness Month this April, it's a timely reminder to confront these challenges head-on and foster a culture of open dialogue surrounding mental health in the workplace.

Understanding Work-Related Stress

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work-related stress as the adverse reaction people experience when faced with excessive pressures or demands in their jobs. Stress can also build when people feel they don’t have the physical, financial, or emotional resources needed to cope with these demands.

In 2022, CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey report, in partnership with Simplyhealth, reveals stress as the main cause of short and long-term absences, with a shocking 79% of absences being stress-related over the last year. This underscores the urgent need to address stress within our workplaces.

The Survey showed the main causes of employee stress include:

  • Workloads and volume of work.
  • Non-work factors – such as relationship or family issues.
  • Management styles.

Illustration by TEAM Safety Services Ltd.

Identifying the Signs

Recognising the signs of stress in employees is crucial for early intervention. Changes in their behaviour or performance may include:

  • Declining productivity
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Loss of motivation or commitment
  • Lapses in memory
  • Withdrawal
  • Arriving late to work
  • Criticism of others
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Tiredness
  • Nervous stumbling of speech or fidgeting
  • Tension headaches

These uncharacteristic changes can indicate underlying stressors. By remaining vigilant and engaging in empathetic conversations, Managers can provide vital support to their teams.

Navigating Pressure vs. Stress

While a certain level of pressure can enhance performance, excessive pressure can lead to harmful stress levels. Organisations must strike a balance and ensure that workloads, management styles, and external factors do not contribute to overwhelming stress among employees.

Legal Obligations and Proactive Measures

Employers have a legal duty to safeguard their employees' health and well-being, including protecting them from stress at work. However, addressing stress should not be solely reactionary. Proactive measures, such as risk assessments and stress audits, training for Managers, and fostering a supportive work culture, are essential for prevention and early intervention.

Illustration by TEAM Safety Services Ltd.

Supporting Employees Holistically

Recognising that personal factors can influence stress levels, employers must treat employees as individuals and provide support to help them balance work and personal responsibilities. Additionally, investing in resources like counselling services and employee assistance programs can offer vital support to those in need.

The Role of Managers

Line Managers play a pivotal role in identifying and addressing stress among their team members. However, they require adequate training and support to fulfil this responsibility effectively. Empowering Managers to have open and supportive conversations with their teams is key to creating a resilient and healthy work environment.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Management Standards guide employers on how to identify and manage the causes of work-related stress. The HSE lists 6 main areas of work design which can affect stress levels, and which need to be managed properly:

  • Demands: for example, workload and the working environment.
  • Control: for example, how much say someone has over their job.
  • Support: for example, the level of supervision and resources available to do the job.
  • Relationships: for example, promoting positive working to help prevent conflict.
  • Role: for example, making sure people understand their role and how it fits in the organisation.
  • Change: for example, how organisational change is managed and communicated.

Recommendations for Employers

Senior leaders must champion workplace health and well-being initiatives, embedding them into the organisation's culture. Providing training for Line Managers, offering early access to occupational health support, and tailoring policies to organisational and employee needs are critical steps toward promoting mental well-being.

Building a Resilient Workplace

As we navigate Stress Awareness Month 2024, let's commit to prioritising mental health and well-being in the workplace. By fostering a culture of openness, providing support to those in need, and implementing proactive measures to mitigate stress, we can create environments where employees thrive both personally and professionally. Let's ensure that mental health remains a top priority year-round.

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