The crucial role of line managers in beating employee stress

The crucial role of line managers in beating employee stress

By Jessica Smyrl, founder and director of YSM Solutions –

Stress is a big problem within the workplace in the UK and it is not being tackled effectively.

Many people are concerned about their jobs and many organisations have to take measures to reduce costs; stress needs to be tackled from the boardroom to ensure that it is a priority.

So often it is now found at work that one person is trying to do ‘two persons’ jobs. With the impact of increasing job insecurity and larger workloads on UK workforce this can in time lead to burnout

The most recent Absence Management Survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Simply Health, found that stress is now the No. 1 reason of long-term sickness absence for both manual and non-manual employees and it is the first time this has been the case since publication of the first report 12 years ago.

Dr Jill Miller, adviser at the CIPD stated that line managers have a crucial role to play in tackling this growing problem: “It’s a difficult time for people at the moment. At work there are pay freezes and job uncertainty, while at home there are increased bills. Employers need to be approachable and create a culture where they are open about the situation and are available to answer any questions employees may have.”

Early intervention is key when dealing with stress-related health problems and line managers are well-placed to spot the early warning signs that employees are stressed.

Managing stress effectively

“But to do this they need to be supported by HR, so they are confident in holding good quality conversations and taking steps like reducing workloads and offering flexible working,” Miller added.

A high level of organisational change is also a major factor in the cause of stress, according to Dr Miller, and is particularly prevalent in the public sector, where 50% of respondents reported an increase in stress-related absence.

Buy-in at a strategic level is essential. How many organisations have a Stress Policy which has been fully endorsed and acted upon by the Board? This requires to be an effective and positive action which will result in a more productive and effective workforce.

There is clear research and evidence to prove that this works and is the only way that stress will be reduced effectively. There needs to be a ‘champion’ at board level to oversee what is happening throughout the organisation and who is also passionate about a clear strategic direction on how to tackle and prevent stress within the workplace.

Many organisations no longer wish to use the word ‘stress’ and are using the term ‘wellbeing’ or ‘resilience’ as this is more positive than giving a negative theme. When this happens it results in blurring and potential avoidance of the problem.

It leaves those who are under stress not wanting to say how they actually feel. They may start to suffer in silence and then show and demonstrate clear signs of stress. In these instances, managers may not have been trained on how to tackle stress and are unsure how to manage it effectively.

Taking a broader view

Training managers should be seen as a top priority from board level otherwise it will not work throughout the organisation. Only once stress has been tackled can the next stage be effective to have a more resilient workforce with a clear wellbeing strategy to go forward.

When managers are not aware of what to look for when someone is under stress, or they themselves are under stress, can lead to many problems such as bullying, intimidation and harassment. There are many good managers and they will work with their staff to help and support them.

However, on the other hand there are managers who are actually causing stress to their team and are possibly unaware of it. This leads to dysfunctional teams, poor performance and reduced confidence resulting in an increase in long-term sickness absence.

Managers and HR Managers and HR teams are often so close to an individual(s) that they cannot look at their case objectively instead they may think the person is ‘at it’ when they say that they are under stress. This can have a very negative impact on the individual leaving them in a situation that they go off long-term sick.

Instead the manager and HR professional should look not only at the individual but those around them to establish if there is a reason for one person claiming they are under stress. The person may be angry or showing clear signs of stress which can be part of a more deep rooted problem within a team.

Stress can have a major impact on our health both in the short and long-term and it is therefore time to create better jobs which are more focussed on an improved work and life balance.

Jessica Smyrl is founder and director of HR consultancy, YSM Solutions.

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