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HR: Work related stress

As businesses begin to reopen, they are facing a number of challenges within the work environment when dealing with employees. This guide is aimed to aid employers in navigating these challenges while complying with all health safety and welfare obligations.

Employees may be feeling stressed and anxious for any number of reasons, and this may lead to an increase in grievances, misconduct, and general unhappiness in the workplace. Employers need to be equipped to manage these correctly withing the bounds of the return to work safety protocols.

Employers have obligations to their employees which come from statute and common law. Section 8 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act (SHAW) 2005 places a specific obligation on employers “to manage and conduct their work activities” in ways that:

  • ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of their employees so far as is reasonably practicable, and
  • prevent “improper conduct or behaviour” likely to put the safety, health or welfare at work of employees at risk, so far as is reasonably practicable.

This means that employers have a duty to their employees to prevent foreseeable illnesses or injuries, including stress-related work injuries.

Red flags for work related stress

Some ‘red flags’ for work related stress include:

  • an abnormal level of sickness or absenteeism in the same job or the same department
  • does the employee have a particular underlying condition or vulnerability?
  • Has he or she already suffered from illness attributable to stress at work?
  • Recent frequent or prolonged absences which are uncharacteristic
  • Recent unwillingness to take on work/responsibility which is uncharacteristic
  • Recent poor performance which is uncharacteristic
  • Difficulty concentrating/meeting deadlines
  • Emotional outbursts or a sudden change in attitude towards work and/or work colleagues

Dealing with suspected work-related stress

If an employer is aware that there may be a problem, the employer needs to address this in a sensitive way with the employee. Employers should also remind employees they suspect are feeling stressed in the workplace of any supports that are available such as an employee assistance programme. Employers should make sure that employees are aware of the grievance policy, bullying and harassment policy and any others that may be appropriate.

While dealing with confirmed or suspected work-related stress, employers should:

  • Ensure they are being reasonable given the circumstances.
  • Avoid situations that are likely to cause damage (either physical or mental) to an employee’s health.
  • offer unlimited access for your employees and their family members to a freephone EAP service 24/7, 365 days a year. Generally, an employer is entitled to assume that the employee can withstand the normal pressures of the job unless the employer knows of some particular problem. The red flags listed above are a useful guide to assess whether an employee may be suffering and to arrange a check in with an employee.
  • Communication is vital. Talk to your employees about the risks of stress and what your company is doing to alleviate them. Arrange regular informal check ins, ask employees how they are feeling, and discuss any issues they may be having.

Employees may be under particular stress at this time due to work, family and financial pressure brought about by Covid-19. This should be taken into account when dealing with any employee relations issues that arise.

  • Where possible partake in an EAP Programme and ensure your employees are aware of the benefit it can offer. In addition to being an excellent support to your employees, taking the pro-active step of providing your employees with access to an independent, confidential counselling service also provides an employer with some legal protection.

ISME offer a Wellness programme with Laya Healthcare and Spectrum.Life which provides unlimited access for employees and their family members to a freephone EAP service 24/7, 365 days a year. Find out more here.

If an employee alleges that they are suffering from work related stress you should immediately notify your insurer.

By: Cait Lynch, HR Advisor

For all HR enquiries please contact [email protected] or call 01 662 2755.