When the Workplace Stress gets Stressful

Welcome to this two minute HR Blast from Jaluch. In this Blast we look at the tough issue of stress management in the workplace.

What causes stress?

You don’t have to look far nowadays to find someone at work who is stressed. They might be stressed:

  • as a result of an upcoming business trip
  • as a work deadline fast looming
  • because they are new into the role or organisation
  • as a result of IT systems going down or on a go slow
  • because they’re being bullied by a colleague
  • as they’re about to be caught out after pulling a sickie or two

There are thousands of reasons why an employee might be stressed at work and the list doesn’t stop at work issues. Employees also get stressed:

  • in the run up to a holiday or in the week after a holiday
  • when a family member is ill or they are moving house
  • when divorcing or getting married
  • if they’re adopting or having children
  • because the broadband at home is down, the car is caput…

It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, but the upshot of every situation is that the employer now has an employee who is stressed and needs managing. Are your managers up to the job?

We’re sure you will have seen this definition many times before but just as a reminder, stress is the ‘adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. (Health and Safety Executive).

Impact on the organisation
The consequences in the workplace include poor performance, reduced productivity, reduced quality, reduced customer care, increased conflict, increased absence, more accidents, lower staff morale and greater staff attrition.

Can you be sued? A recent legal decision…
B&Q plc have recently been at the forefront of legal action when a manager of their supermarket became ill through occupational stress and alleged this was due to their employer’s negligence and/or breach of their statutory duty and lack of risk assessment by the employer.

If you are someone who likes details, you can read more here.

Luckily, the employer in this case was not found liable for psychiatric illness caused by occupational stress, but it’s worth taking a quick look at two issues that were relevant in this case:

Issue #1. Foreseeability In this case his depression was not foreseeable by B&Q. The claimant could not demonstrate ‘foreseeability’ which he needed to do to win his claim.

The court also said that just because someone is on medication for depression, does not mean that it is foreseeable that they will have a relapse. Many people stay in roles for long periods of time whilst taking such medication.

But whilst B&Q could not reasonably ‘foresee’ his depression, that will not always be the case. Quite often we come across organisations that already know that sooner or later, due to established ways of working, one of their employees will suffer significant work related stress.

And clearly if something is reasonably foreseeable, then it will probably be considered negligent if the employer has not taken steps to prevent it, or otherwise manage it sensibly, once it did become known.

Given this, do your managers understand the role they have to play in respect of recognising and preventing ‘foreseeable’ stress/psychiatric injury?

Issue #2. Policy/Practice/Risk Assessments. In this case the claimant could not demonstrate that B&Q had failed to:

  • create the necessary H&S paperwork
  • advise employees how to report issues of stress
  • encourage employees to report stress
  • carry out appropriate risk assessments.

From a paperwork and sensible H&S management approach, B&Q had done all that was required.

Specifically, as the employee had failed to report that he was suffering from stress no additional risk assessment was carried out. If he had reported it, we would hope that B&Q would have carried out the necessary additional risk assessment.

So would your managers have carried out a more specific risk assessment had stress been reported?

Top tips for professionally managing stress:

  • Develop a specific policy on managing stress, inviting individuals to identify and notify the employer of any symptoms
  • Make sure all your people are aware of how to spot the signs of stress within team members
  • Encourage employees to talk about stress and its impact – the earlier stress is dealt with the better! Ensure that talking about stress will not result in adverse consequences
  • Review job responsibilities/targets and capabilities if staff complain of heavy work loads and stress – reasonable adjustments may need to be made. If necessary, seek specialist advice early on
  • Does your organisational risk assessment cover stress? If not, include it
  • Consider whether your leaders are good role models in talking about and dealing with stress issues and actively create an appropriate culture that allows issues such as this to be raised and discussed without adverse consequence.

Did you know…

…there is a new employer’s service providing support with managing absence? It is called ‘Fit for Work’ and it is a Government funded initiative. It’s currently proving useful but may not be available in your area yet… http://www.fitforwork.org/employer/


  • the average sickness for UK employees is 6.8 days
  • 20% of UK staff say it is okay to pull a sickie
  • 70% of line managers take primary responsibility for managing short-term absence (53% long term absence)

(Source document CIPD Absence Management Report 2012).

If this topic is a hot potato in your organisation, here are a few ideas about support and guidance from Jaluch:

  • Managing Absence Bag of Learning – deliver your own training in house at a great price.
  • Managing absence workshops for managers and supervisors – delivered by us for you.
  • Helpdesk support with specific issues – ad hoc project work and contracts also available.
  • Drafting and reviewing policies and procedures – let us get this off your to do list this year.

Please contact us if you are interested in any of the above, or anything else! We’d love to hear from you.

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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