• Sita Douglas

Depression, Anxiety and Stress at Work


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?


The past 18 months have been particularly hard for millions of people, experiencing pressure and stress that has, at times, seemed relentless. For some, the effect on their mental health of prolonged remote working and the uncertainty over the future of their jobs has been considerable.


Because this has been happening to so many people, and has been covered so extensively in the media, it has focussed public attention on the issue of depression and associated conditions including stress and anxiety. How big an effect do they have on employees in the UK?


According to government statistics for 2019/2020, it’s estimated that there were 828,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, causing 51% of working days lost and amounting to a total of 17.9 million working days lost in Great Britain. It’s likely that the effect of the pandemic will have exacerbated this further.


Small- and medium-sized businesses will feel the effect of mental health related absences 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 economic downturns and crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, as the economy starts to grow again, many employees will find that their workload is increasing dramatically, which will naturally cause more pressure and stress. 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 access via an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to a stress helpline run by trained counsellors 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.