April is stress awareness month, an event organised by the Stress Management Society to increase public awareness about stress in the workplace.

Last year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that for the first time work-related stress, anxiety or depression accounts for over half of all working days lost to ill health in the UK.

XpertHR says there are many reasons why employers should take active steps to prevent their employees from experiencing workplace stress, including the positive impact on areas including recruitment, retention, absence and employee engagement. It sets out five ways for employers to reduce employee stress:

Tackle excessive workloads

· Work with line managers to review each job and the way it is done with a view to introducing improvements wherever possible

· Cut out all unnecessary or duplicated work

· Ensure that workloads, targets and deadlines are realistic

· Talk to employees to review if the demands being made on them are within their individual coping resources

· Give individuals more control over their work wherever possible

Manage working hours

· If there is evidence of express or implicit pressure on employees to work consistently long hours, take action to change the culture

· Make it the responsibility of each line manager to make sure that every employee restricts their working hours to a reasonable level and takes regular breaks and annual leave

· Offer employees flexibility over their working hours and working patterns whenever possible

· Encourage employees to achieve a good work-life balance

Provide support and training

· Recognise that the amount of support and training that individuals need will vary

· Set time aside to support employees when they need it, for example after a period of absence or when newly promoted

· Ensure that employees receive sufficient coaching and training to perform their job effectively and confidently

· Offer employees training in personal stress management

Prevent bullying

· Implement an anti-bullying/harassment policy and complaints procedure, and make sure that everyone knows that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated

· Take prompt action whenever there is any evidence of bullying behaviour, to investigate it and put a stop to it

· Take any complaints seriously

Encourage two-way communication

· Make sure that each employee knows how their job fits in with the organisation as a whole

· Ensure that staff are clear about what is expected of them in terms of objectives, job responsibilities and work standards

· Provide regular feedback to all employees on their performance

· Ensure that employees are informed, involved and, where appropriate, consulted, during periods of change

· Provide a clear route for employees to raise genuine workplace problems and make sure that everyone knows there will be no recriminations for those who do so

XpertHR says that managers need to be consistently vigilant to the possibility of employee stress, since every individual has different coping resources. In addition, employees often won’t admit to being stressed because they may feel embarrassed or guilty or fear that they will be perceived as weak or incompetent if they do so.

Managers should recognise that workplace stress is a serious issue and resolve to address it in a positive and constructive manner with a view to prevention or reduction wherever possible.

XpertHR offers further guidance on reducing stress in the good practice guide on stress management.

For more information visit: www.xperthr.co.uk