An unfair TripAdvisor review that’s gone viral, a power cut during peak service or multiple colleagues off sick with the latest bug doing the rounds. Any number of situations at work can cause stress, not to mention our modern ‘always on’ culture of social media and smartphones, and the hectic personal lives that can go with it.
While some stress is good and can encourage people to high achievements, unmanageable, long-term pressure can seriously dent your mental health.
But the signs of a dip in mental health are not always easy to spot. However, the evidence for it is categorical. Almost two-fifths of UK employers (37%) have reported an increase in staff stress-related absences over the last year, according to a survey from HR body the CIPD.
So what are the signs of stress? When employees start acting differently it can indicate a problem. Whether it’s a change in attitude, taking more time off sick, turning up late or seeming more nervous or irritable at work, stress manifests in many different ways. Mood swings or becoming withdrawn are other signs of stress, as are a loss of interest, commitment and confidence at work, or overly emotional reactions such as crying easily or becoming aggressive. One less well-known sign is a loss of sense of humour, if someone previously enjoyed a joke, being unable to see the funny side of a situation might suggest an overwhelmed colleague.
Nail biting, picking at skin and muscle tightness can also be indicative of raised tension levels, as can over or under-eating, smoking or drinking too much and for some people suicidal feelings.
In a team dynamic, there are other signs that managers can watch out for. For example, a rise in the number of arguments between colleagues or an increase in staff turnover. What managers may actually notice first is a drop in performance levels or an increase in complaints and grievances within the team or about the team from customers or other parts of the business.
Pre-emptive action can reduce the impact of stress. At pub company Fuller’s, they’ve decided to take a proactive approach to boost positive mental health. Lee Marshall, the company’s Group Health and Safety Manager, says they set up a mental health awareness web page for staff about two years ago after an incident in one of their pubs. The site sign-posts topics for discussion hosts Licensed Trade Charity (LTC) support videos and gives links to more organisations where people can go for further information and help. To raise awareness about the site, Fuller’s organised a ‘stop the clock’ event. This involved all staff across the Fuller’s sites stopping for 15 minutes at a point during the day to go through the topics and become familiar with the web page. After this initiative page views went up by a third, Lee explains.
Fuller’s wanted to go further in supporting employees, so the company spoke to LTC and its insurers about what they could do. As a result, this year the pub company launched ‘mental health first aider’ courses for staff. On the course, people gain a deeper understanding of issues that affect mental health and learn how to spot the signs and symptoms of poor mental health. They learn how to initiate a supportive conversation with co-workers. For example, how to listen non-judgmentally. Course attendees learn how to assess if there is a risk of suicide, help someone access appropriate support, and call in the emergency services if necessary.
Lee states they currently have about 200 people signed up to do the courses and the goal is to have at least one mental health first aider at every site. There are plans for first aiders to be given badges with ‘its ok, not to be ok’ or ‘time to talk’ to further raise awareness. Lee explains that it’s a visual prompt to show they are there to talk to if needed.
The company also offers staff electronic health checks. Lee says the employer pays for the online health check-ups, which look at lifestyle and highlight what people can do to be healthier.
Fuller’s plans to run more ‘stop the clock’ initiatives to raise awareness and will launch a Mind-backed survey for all staff to understand how the broader workforce is feeling. Lee explains that a healthy workforce that knows how to take care of its own mental wellbeing benefits everyone. He concludes that overall, Fuller’s initiatives have helped with staff retention because it’s seen as a caring company. He states that looking after employee mental health helps to build loyalty, team morale in pubs and a wider belief in the business.
Proactive policies are certainly working for Fuller’s. And other employers should take note, they have a legal responsibility to support staff experiencing mental health issues. It’s also crucial to recognise that workplace stress can trigger or exacerbate mental illnesses. One way employers can spot and prevent potential triggers is to assess their workplace for stress factors and introduce measures to reduce the impact.
Food Alert supports employers with these risk assessments, in line with HSE guidelines, by looking at the key issues that cause stress. These can include the working environment, working patterns and work demand. They also cover employees with a lack of autonomy and support, poor work relationships, poorly defined or conflicting roles and organisational change.
Once an assessment is complete, Food Alert provides tailored support and resources to employers to resolve any issues. It’s also important to consider that if an employee’s mental health condition has existed for a significant amount of time, they may be classified as disabled under the Equality Act 2010. In this instance, employers have a further legal responsibility to consider and to put in place reasonable adjustments to support them in their role.
The mental health of the workforce is vital. Happy and healthy staff treat customers better. Good mental health benefits everyone.