With The International Stress Management Association’s official Stress Awareness Day being celebrated across the globe today, we’ve reached into the Paycare archives to share with you this blog penned by our very own CEO, Kevin Rogers.

With this year’s theme being ‘Speak Up and Speak Out About Stress’, Kevin outlines the impact that stress can have within the workplace – not only for employees but businesses as a whole – and explains how an open and honest approach by employers can help staff feel empowered and supported…

“Workplace stress is often a big talking point for employers and is a serious employment issue which can insidiously eat away at profits, productivity, and efficiency, and ultimately be the reason why businesses lose valued staff. So what is stress? What should and could employers do about it? And how can it be managed?

For an individual, the presence of a mental health issue can have a significant impact on their confidence, self-esteem, concentration, and motivation, but because – unlike physical ailments, illnesses, or injuries – stress is faceless, it can often lead to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach.   From an employer’s perspective, however, the impact of a member of the team’s poor mental health can be significant, and can result in lower productivity levels, diminished morale (both in terms of the individual and the wider team), and subsequently reduced profits.

Despite the negative impact of poor mental health being hugely evident, what’s clear is that there are often two major barriers to managing stress and mental health.  The first is a lack of proper understanding of the issue and mental health as a whole, with employers not feeling confident enough to act appropriately, and therefore shying away from it. The second is when an employer does have an understanding but isn’t willing to delve any deeper to solve issues, and therefore looks elsewhere for blame such as performance-based or operational issues.

There are, however, huge opportunities for an employer to break down these barriers and to ultimately improve the wellbeing of their teams and therefore profitability, and it can simply be done with an openness to approaching the subject head-on.  Managers in particular can monitor their team’s workloads more closely, increase communication efforts, and make small changes to their behaviour to appear more approachable to others – who otherwise might see them as being too busy to interrupt.

Training managers and employers to spot the early signs of mental health issues is also crucial.  BT’s three-tiered strategy to tackling stress and mental health issues in the workplace has already paid huge dividends. It includes offering advice, guidance and intranet-based tips, skills sessions, and training for managers to spot early signs and understand the support and treatment available. As a result of its innovative approach, stress and anxiety sick leave has fallen significantly across BT, including by 24% in just one area.

Another way in which businesses can support their teams is by putting an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place, which offers staff the opportunity to seek help from independent professionals on a private and confidential basis.  Established in the 1970s, EAPs are designed specifically to support individuals facing difficult or challenging situations which might adversely affect their work performance, health and wellbeing and have increasingly been hailed as a valuable and cost-effective way for employers to provide specialist help to employees.

Programmes such as these can be vital, particularly in workplaces that don’t adopt an ‘open’ environment or encourage employees to speak openly and freely, where employers and line managers appear to be ‘unapproachable’, or when the employee anticipates any answers or feedback to be unhelpful, judgmental or negative – and they can be used for a wide variety of issues, from relationship and financial issues, through to mental health issues like stress, anxiety, depression or even suicide.

“Ultimately, it’s not about managers training to become therapists and psychiatrists, but so much more about encouraging them to get their head out of the sand and getting to grips it with now, realising it’s a very real problem that’s having a major effect on their business, and seeking readily-available training, advice, and guidance to help them support their teams in becoming happier, mentally healthier, and more productive,” concluded Kevin.