Monday 16th January is nearly here! No biggy, right? Wrong. The third Monday of January is better known as Blue Monday, which is renowned as a challenge for most workplace managers with its officially title of the ‘most depressing day of the year’.
So why is this so? Most of us have had time off over Christmas, we've seen family and friends – theoretically we should be well rested and raring to get back to work. Sadly, for many people, this is not the case.
Many of us will feel stressed and anxious regarding how much money we have spent over Christmas, and it is often only during annual leave that we realise we have been performing under a high level of stress and feel pretty burned out. The majority of us will bounce back from this feeling after a few days, but an increasing number of people struggle with stress and its associated psychological problems, such as anxiety or depression.
Stress at home can cause or compound stress at work, it is undeniably the case that an ever-growing number of employees struggle with their workload – and this in turn can create a massive administrative and financial burden on employers.
Winter, January especially, employees can become demotivated; the festivities are over, the weather is poor and all the work neglected over the Christmas period reappears.
So what can employers do? There are a number of measures an employer can take to try and deal with stress, which also ease the burden associated with Employment Tribunal or Court claims should a worker suffer from depression or anxiety.
These signs include: regressive behaviour, like arguing or being unduly sensitive; withdrawal, such as evasiveness or absenteeism; aggression, like criticising or harassing other workers; declining or inconsistent work performance.
Employers should also take proactive steps to try and address the impact of stress in the workplace, such as the provision of training for all employees on how to handle stress, training for managers on how to identify stressed team members, and confidential counselling for the entire workforce.
Make sure that employees can prioritise their workloads and that chains of command are working properly, to ensure the appropriate delegation of work and adequate provision of support for all members of staff.
The importance of timely performance appraisals should not be underestimated. Consider carrying out ‘stress audits’ to engage in dialogue with employees about their workloads, or conducting ‘welcome back’ interviews after periods of sickness absence to ease the transition.
Ensure that the company’s stress policy is up-to-date, widely circulated and regularly referred to. A policy which gathers dust on the HR manager’s desk is of no use to anyone, and will not be very helpful in defending an Employment Tribunal claim arising from poor handling of a worker’s psychological problems. There are some outstanding local solicitors who specialise in employment law; click here if you want to know more about them.
There is no proper legal framework for dealing with stress, depression and anxiety in the workplace in the UK. Instead, the rights and duties of employers and employees derive from of health and safety legislation, restrictions on working hours, and discrimination policies. This makes it very difficult for employers to navigate the complex issues thrown up by stress, depression and anxiety in the workplace.
However, a golden rule in handling these issues is that courts look closely at whether employers could have foreseen or in any way caused the psychological problems of its workers.
By using the steps outlined above, an employer will be ensuring they are doing the best by their employees but that they are also building a good defence against potential court or tribunal claims for stress and personal injury.
Make sure 2017 is the year you tackle stress – and its causes – head on within your workplace.
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