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Stress Awareness Month

April is stress awareness month which is a great opportunity for employers to review steps that can be taken to reduce stress in the workplace. Mental health and wellbeing is high on the agenda across many businesses and organisations, with employers being informed about many different methods and initiatives that they can adopt to promote and protect employee’s health.

So what should employers do to manage stress in the workplace?

Top Tip #1: Encourage conversations about mental health

Encouraging an open culture where employees feel like they can talk to each other and/or managers will undoubtedly help alleviate stress in the workplace. Training line managers and senior staff to recognise stress will help them to manage staff with varying degrees of mental health issues.

Top Tip #2: Deal with the Fit Note

It is important for employers to deal with a Fit Note stating work related stress appropriately, by contacting the employee to find out what is triggering their stress and taking steps to eliminate the cause as soon as possible. Appropriate contact should be maintained with an employee on sick leave during the entirety of their absence. An employer should discuss with the employees what measures it may be able to take to help an employee return to work at the earliest opportunity.

Top Tip #3: Don’t let matters drift during long term sick leave

Employers should deal with issues head on when absence presents unacceptable levels of disruption to the business, rather than allowing the situation to drift to the point where the employee has been off for so long that dismissal looks like the only viable option.

Top Tip #4: What about disciplinary proceedings?

A common problem for employers is that of the employee who, upon being told to attend a disciplinary hearing, goes off sick citing stress as the cause. Contrary to popular belief, the default position is not to postpone.

In most cases, medical advice will suggest that dealing with the disciplinary issue will be more beneficial to the employee.

Top Tip #5: Manage Poor Performance

Where performance becomes an issue, discuss it with the employee promptly and explain that they are not performing to acceptable standards. If disciplinary action is necessary, ensure fair and appropriate procedures are followed with reference to any relevant internal policies and the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.

Top Tip #6: “He can’t be ill, he’s on holiday”

Whilst it would normally amount to gross misconduct for an employee to take sick leave and claim sick pay when they are fit for work, employers should avoid making snap judgements based upon reports that a stressed employee has gone on holiday, or has been seen otherwise enjoying themselves.

There is no legal requirement that a stressed employee must stay at home and not go out.

Employers wishing to learn more about dealing with stressed employees, how to deal with tricky issues and this ever developing area are invited to join us at our stress buster workshops in November or to call Joanne Holborn, Tom Scaife or Caroline Rayner on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

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