The Secret Life of Managers: Stress related absence

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Posted in:HR and Employment|May 16, 2017 | Join the mailing list

Continuing our ‘Secret Life of Managers’ blog series which describes common issues experienced in the workplace from the point of view of a senior manager. This month the blog looks at stress related absence and how to manage this in the workplace.

The transport and logistics sector is synonymous with long hours, tight deadlines and solitary work away from friends and family. I have worked in the sector for 15 years and I am currently a manager at a haulage company that employs 60 people.

A year ago, I noticed that a HGV driver in my team had started to regularly call in sick, arrive late for work and had reduced social contact with other employees, which was uncharacteristic behaviour. After a few weeks he presented a 1 month sick note which stated he was suffering from stress associated with the pressures of the job. It was a recurring issue within the company, which I looked into with HR.

Upon reviewing our absence data over a 5-year period, we discovered a dramatic increase in stress-related absences and felt we were ill-equipped to deal with the issue. We needed to review how we viewed stress and mental health and combat the problem.

In line with recommendations on good practice, we implemented a stress policy which outlines our attitude to stress as a business. We drafted the policy to include how we will protect the mental well-being of employees and how mental health issues in the workplace are dealt with. The policy outlines our commitment to conducting regular risk assessments and highlights the key role managers have in identifying signs of stress. It also commits to providing training to assess and manage the risks of stress on an ongoing basis.

The policy also commits to providing internal sources of support for employees suffering from stress, including holding information workshops relating to stress avoidance and establishing support groups. There is also a commitment to external help in the form of access to medical specialists and providing employee assistance programmes.

We have also adopted HSEs 5-step approach to stress management:

Step 1: Identify the stress risk factors.

Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how.

Step 3: Evaluate the risks and develop solutions.

Step 4: Record findings.

Step 5: Monitor and review the action plan and assess effectiveness.

When the employee returned to work (after a 4-month absence) we conducted a return-to-work interview in which it was confirmed the long-haul, high pressure driving jobs were the cause of the stress. In accordance with HSEs 5 step approach, we assessed the risks, recorded our findings, ensured he only conducted short-haul trips and committed to regularly reviewing his progress. We also enrolled him on an employee assistance programme.

We now understand the importance of identifying and combating stress risks and communicating effectively with staff. Consequently, we have found employees are more willing to engage with management and share potential stress triggers in the workplace.

Going forward, we are committed to conducting stress audits by asking employees to list any concerns they have. We also provide training to all staff relating to recognising situations which are likely to cause stress, identifying symptoms of stress and managing stress. We also consult with employees and employee representatives on organisational changes.

To find out more about the issues raised in this post, or to discuss any queries regarding  stress in the workplace get in touch with Michelle Gray  or call +44 (0) 161 829 2599.

The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by berg or any of its partners or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

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