How employers can create a stress-free workplace

With Britons putting in the longest hours in Europe, stress in business is at its peak. Workplace stress costs UK businesses £1.24 billion a year in time taken off - and the problem is getting worse. 1.5 million working days a year are now lost due to stressed out employees being absent from work and 60 per cent of employers admitted that the problem is causing staff retention difficulties.

Do you run your own business and find that your firm's productivity is affected by staff absenteeism? Do you know what to do to reduce stress in your business and create a happier environment?

Here is our guide to what you can do, as an employer, to tackle workplace stress and, ultimately, avoid litigation. Employees are more aware than ever that they may have a claim against their employer as a result of workplace stress. Insurers are certainly encouraging their insured to immediately notify them of any claim where stress, bullying, harassment or discrimination is alleged.

Many workplace stress claims can be avoided by improving personnel procedures and communications, and by creating a more open and helpful culture in the workplace.

10 tips on how to prevent workplace stress

  1. Encourage an open and understanding culture.

  2. Ensure good communication.

  3. Be understanding if your employees admit to being under too much pressure.

  4. Ensure that your employees are properly trained for their work.

  5. Ensure that your employees have sufficient support.

  6. Allow employees as much control as possible over their work and working conditions.

  7. Ensure that your employees are treated fairly.

  8. Prevent bullying and harassment (and replace line managers if necessary). Our article 'How to prevent bullying in the workplace' gives you expert advice, from an employment lawyer, on how to tackle harassment in your business.

  9. Regularly monitor the workforce for possible signs of stress.

  10. Provide a confidential advice service.

10 steps to reducing stress in the workplace

  1. If overwork is causing stress in the business, then try to reduce people's workload. Ensure that your employees' targets are challenging, but realistic, and encourage delegation of work, where possible.

  2. Make sure that your employees take their full holiday entitlement.

  3. Check individuals are well-matched to the jobs they've got. When you're hiring staff, make sure that your recruitment and selection procedures help you to do this. For expert advice on how to recruit staff and the employment contracts involved, read our book Employment Law Made Easy.

  4. Review people's performance so that they know how they're doing. You'll then be able to get feedback from your staff about potential problems and identify any training they may need.

  5. Keep your employees' informed about your business' direction and make sure that you tell them about any significant changes to the business.

  6. Ensure that you have the proper discipline and grievance procedures in effect to tackle bullying and harassment. The procedures are explained more fully in our book Employment Law Made Easy and are outlined in our Staff Handbook, which can be downloaded immediately and handed to your employees.

  7. If an employee is suffering badly from workplace stress, discuss with the employee concerned before you make any decisions. Don't leave them out of the loop.

  8. Consider whether the employee should be moved or work fewer hours, or otherwise vary their work. If they're off sick, keep in touch. Beware of the employment law implications of changing the terms of an employee's employment contract or of dismissing them. Our article "Changing your staff's employment contract" gives you expert advice on when you can change an employment contract, and our article "How do I terminate an employment contract?" outlines in what circumstances you can dismiss an employee.

  9. If your employee has experienced personal problems, such as a relationship break-up or an illness in the family, take a sympathetic approach.

  10. If necessary, enable and encourage the employee to seek further help through their doctor or a counselling service.

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Published on: June 2, 2008

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