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Depression, Anxiety and Stress at work

Updated: Feb 17

Some stress is good for us but if it gets too much, it can really affect our work and family life as well as our physical health. If your employees are suffering from stress, what steps can you take to ensure that your workplace becomes happier and healthier?

Depression, anxiety and other related issues have been in the news recently, following the tragic crash of the Germanwings airliner in March 2015.

One of the big questions that was asked about the crash is why the company did not take action after it was revealed that Andreas Lubitz, the airliner’s co-pilot had a history of depression and suicidal tendencies.

Europe’s aviation watchdog this month recommended expanded mental health and medical checks of pilots, saying that pilots should “undergo psychological evaluation” during training or before entering service and face random drug and alcohol tests.

The incident has also brought back into the public focus the issue of depression and associated conditions including stress and anxiety. How big an effect do they have on employees in the UK?

Recent figures show that staff absences in the NHS for mental health problems have doubled at hospital trusts across England in the past four years. 41,112 staff were off sick with anxiety, stress and depression in 2014 – up from 20,207 in 2010. This means that there is an absence rate of 0.03 % due to anxiety, stress and depression.

Small and medium sized businesses will feel the effect of mental health related absences (or any absence) more keenly than larger organisations since SMEs do not often have the capacity to fill gaps in the workforce from a large pool of ‘spare’ workers, or the resources to bring in skilled temporary labour.

So what steps can be taken to improve the absence rates overall and especially in relation to issues such as stress and depression?

One of the most important steps is to talk to staff about how they are feeling and taking the time to notice any changes in appearance, attitude or the way they communicate with others. By noticing these things and being able to initiate supporting discussions early on, employers can help to reduce the likelihood that these issues will become ones which necessitate employees taking time away from work.

Another important factor is the workload faced by employees. Over recent years, many companies have had to reduce the size of the workforce to maximise their chances of surviving the economic downturn. As the economy starts to grow again, many employees are finding that their workload is increasing dramatically. Maybe now is the time to look at the amount of work employers ask employees to do and perhaps think about taking on additional staff to help lighten the load.

Many companies are making use of apprenticeship schemes to bring in young people and train them up so they can support others to reduce work-related stress. This is a low-cost option in the short term; a stronger medium-to-long-term solution is to bring in experienced employees.

Another supportive measure is to provide and facilitate employee access to a stress helpline run by trained counselors who can help to either direct employees to the services that may benefit them or provide service over the telephone or by web chat. Just knowing that there is a listening ear available for them if they need to talk to somebody can be an immense relief for employees who feel that they have nowhere else to turn.

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