Managing employee stress: a vital technique for protecting workplace mental health

Stressed employee
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HR professionals have many roles within an organisation. They’re there to design, shape and implement workplace policy. They shape recruitment processes, make key organisational decisions and – perhaps most importantly – protect the wellbeing of their employees.

When it comes to mental health, more often than not, we can see the focus shift towards people discussing how best to talk to family members and friends about mental health issues, or alternatively how to self-regulate when it comes to protecting the wellbeing of one’s mind.

For most adults, a large part of their world comprises their job.

They’ll spend significant amounts of their lifetime working and spending time with colleagues along with thinking or worrying about their careers.

So, what do we know about employee mental health? One issue which we know that is taking a toll on workers around the UK is work related stress. In 2014 alone, 11.3 million work days were lost to stress, anxiety and depression across our nation. This obviously has a huge impact on both individual employees and their wider team members – which can create a ‘domino effect’ of issues across an organisation.

Employers are quickly beginning to realise that mental health issues are not just problematic for the people facing them: they’re also an issue for the businesses and people they‘re connected to as well.

To lessen the negative influence of stress – which can lead to issues like anxiety and depression – both employees and employers alike must learn to become more resilient.

HR professionals must play a leading role in training for this: supporting managers and other leading professionals to ensure that they’re creating an appropriate culture that removes the stigmas around stress and mental health issues and instead promotes open discussion when staff are feeling overwhelmed.

HR professionals must also actively source the correct materials and resources, in order to effectively support employees who exhibit signs of ill mental health.

We cannot eliminate all the stress from our everyday lives.

Stress is a natural reaction to external events and is supposed to exist within our personal worlds to a certain extent.

However, it’s vital that HR professionals and employees alike develop the ability to recognise unhealthy levels of stress at the earliest possible stage.

The following tips can help HR professionals to reduce pressure on those under strain whilst helping you to take pressure away from stressed or suffering staff.

  • Identify the hazards – work out what may cause excessive pressure or demand on members of your team. Identifying potential problems gives you time to put measures in place before they become a bigger issue
  • Decide who may be at risk – are some people in more demanding roles than others? Are some dealing with difficult issues outside of work? Knowing who’s under pressure can help you monitor wellbeing
  • Assess the risk – work out how likely the impact is to occur and how severe it may be. This includes having contingency plans for unexpected absences
  • Normalise a closed door – the current design of many workplaces is open plan and it can be very obvious that a meeting with sensitive content is being held. This can then result in staff not requesting a much needed meeting to discuss their situation. As the HR team, try and make it normal to have regular meetings with other team members behind closed doors, as this will remove barriers to open communication and make the situation less intimidating
  • Record the findings – decide on any action required to eliminate the source of stress. Could you offer flexible working, counselling, or time off to attend medical appointments? Talk to employees and establish what they think would or has helped them resolve the issue. HR is in an advantageous position as you are a neutral, confidential source to help employees, so talking to employees is as vital as understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all approach
  • Review the assessment – ascertain the effectiveness of the interventions and revise where appropriate. Set the HR department goals and work towards resolving issues step by step. Being proactive is vital in realising and negating problems and will pay off
  • Look at your company culture – creating a culture where employees feel secure enough to talk about mental health concerns is a major breakthrough. To support this, implement a process where employees are part of the agreed support process and involved in proposals

Putting these steps in place will help you and your colleagues in other people management roles if any of your employees experience episodes of stress.

This will ultimately benefit not just your employees, but the morale of your team and the bottom line of your business.

About Rachel Bodill

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