How to handle an employee off with work-related stress

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Health Assured team

02 March 2020

When an employee experiences extreme levels of stress they might need to take some time off work to recover.

In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed the impacts of stress, anxiety and depression to business retention, productivity and profitability.

According to research for CIPD, up to 37% of businesses in the UK have seen increases in stress-related absences in the last year.

When absences occur, the way that you handle it can make the difference between a speedy recovery and them taking longer to recover.

For employers currently dealing with prolonged absences from work due to mental health issues, you can contact Health Assured today.

Our team of expert counsellors are on hand to support employees experiencing symptoms of mental ill-health. You can call us now on 0844 892 2493.

You can also read on for implementable tips on how to handle an employee off with work-related stress.

We highlight the legislations in place to protect the (mental and physical) wellbeing of your staff and offer suggestions for supporting employees while they’re off work.

Work-related stress: an employer’s responsibility

As an employer, you have certain responsibilities for ensuring employee mental health.

When making considerations for depression or work-related stress, employee rights are in place to ensure you’re meeting your responsibilities. These include:

  • Identifying any significant and foreseeable risk to the health of your staff
  • Preventing foreseeable harm to your employee’s health
  • Making considerations for disabilities that have substantial or long-term effects on an employee’s ability to work

But firstly, what legislation governs stress at work laws in the UK?

While there’re no specific legal obligations about stress at work, you do have duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The legislation requires you to ensure the health, safety and welfare of your employees which includes their mental wellbeing.

This duty of care also extends to carrying out risk assessments and the provision of ‘reasonable adjustments’ as and when needed.

The risk assessment begins by identifying the levels of stress associated with the work environment and duties. Based on the assessment, you’ll then need to respond with appropriate control measures to reduce or eliminate these risks.

As well as meeting your legal obligations, by fulfilling your duty of care towards your staff you’re also saving on the costs associated with prolonged absences, recruiting and training new staff, lost productivity, etc.

Work-related stress pay

If an employee is too ill to work, their GP may sign them off work to recover. This can be as a result of physical or mental illness including stress and depression.

When this occurs, it entitles them to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or sick pay from an occupational scheme.

SSP is the statutory amount you must pay when an employee is too ill to work. They would need to meet certain criteria to qualify for this pay including being off work for four or more days in a row.

Instead of SSP, some organisation choose to offer occupational sick pay. While the amount depends on the employee’s contract of employment, it should never be less than the statutory payment.

An employee’s eligibility for this payment will depend on the rules specified by the employer.

Managing the causes of work-related stress

We’ve previously explored the main causes of stress. Research has found that work-related stress affects various elements of the work process. This includes:

  • Staff performance and productivity
  • Presenteeism and absenteeism levels
  • Retention and turnover rates
  • Employment tribunal claims
  • Consumer satisfaction
  • Brand reputation

Managing the causes of stress helps to reduce the effect it has on the points mentioned above.

The most effective way to manage stressors is by investing in wellness schemes.

An employee assistance programme comprises different services that, when combined, forms a benefits programme. It helps employees deal with personal and professional problems that might impact their work performance.

A standard EAP will come with access to 24/7 counselling (by phone or in-person), critical incident advice, an online portal with access to various resources, etc.

What to do when an employee is off work due to stress

When an employee has been off work as a result of work-related stress, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll return to the same role if you haven’t addressed the source of their stress.

During an extended period of absence, it’s important to maintain contact with your staff away from work. As well as showing your loyalty to them and their wellbeing, it can also help to aid their recovery and ease them back to work.

Consider the following steps following absences due to ill health:

Understanding: The first thing you’ll need to do is to understand why they’re stressed. During this stage, it’s important to remember the stigma associated with ill mental health and understand when an employee’s reluctant to talk to you about their problems. It might be a good idea to reassure them that your conversations are private and will be dealt with sensitively.

Communication: Most people in this position will appreciate some space away from work- and work-related activities to boost their recovery. However, it’s essential to maintain some level of communication. This allows you to keep the employee up to date with developments. It also allows the employee to update you on their progress and provide you with an idea of when they might be returning to work.

Return to work interview: It can be quite daunting to return to work after an extended period off. When an employee is ready to come back, it might be a good idea to conduct a return to work interview to ensure they’re ready. You can use this interview as an opportunity to catch them up on everything they’ve missed and to review adjustment you’ve put in place to address stress levels.

Reasonable adjustments: If an employee’s absence is as a result of work-related stress then you’ll need to carry out a risk assessment as per your duty of care. Based on the outcome of this assessment, you may need to make reasonable adjustments. Consider changes that’ll allow for a speedy return to work. These can include flexible working options, suggesting alternative job roles or reduced hours.

Phased return to work: In certain situations, you may be better off phasing the employee’s return to work. In this instance, they’ll come back gradually, so it can be anything from an hour a day to a couple of days a week. Whatever the case may be, the aim is to ensure that employees can fully return without exacerbating their mental conditions.

How to monitor stress levels

The first and most important aspect of monitoring stress is to create a work-related stress policy. This policy will highlight your organisation’s approach to protecting the wellbeing of your staff.

In it, you’ll define stress and highlight your responsibilities to your employees. You’ll also discuss the adverse effects of stress on work and the work process.  The policy should also include wording on how line-manages and other employees can identify the signs of stress in their colleagues.

The work-related stress policy should include information on how and who employees can report cases of stress as well as the steps you’ll take to address these issues.

You can also create a work-related stress questionnaire to determine where stressors exist. Based on the result of this questionnaire, you can then suggest options to eliminate, reduce or control the stressors.

You can also make use of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) management standards indicator tool. With it, you’ll be able to compare previous control methods against newer ones to determine and monitor the effectiveness of your current control methods.

Expert support

Contact us today for more information on recognising and managing work-related stress on 0844 892 2493.

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