Welcome to the first in a series of articles on combating stress related claims in your workplace.
There appears to be an increasing prevalence in the modern workplace for these sorts of claims and they can often lead to protracted periods of absence on sick leave and/or a breakdown in the employer employee relationship.
Under the State Occupational Safety and Health Act and Regulations there is a requirement for the employer to provide ‘as far as is practicable’ a safe and stress free working environment.
In managing these sorts of risks the obligation extends to psychosocial hazards such as stress and workplace bullying. There is no requirement to totally eliminate stress from the workplace so a rule of thumb could run along the lines that ‘some stress is acceptable but ‘distress’ is not’.
Factors that can cause stress
Stress resulting from an excessive workload may cause psychological harm to employees. You have an obligation from a duty of care perspective to monitor and manage this – some checks and balances you should consider are:
- Whether the workload is reasonable;
- Whether the employee has enough support to meet the workload;
- That ample break times are given to the employee;
- That there is a system of consultation and feedback about any issues;
- That you have established a clear Grievance Policy and Process to manage complaints where they arise.
Some factors to consider when monitoring and managing workload include:
- Is the employee’s workload significantly more than what is ‘normal’ for their particular job?
- Are the performance requirements being placed on the employee unreasonable in comparison to the requirements placed on other staff doing the same work or in a comparable role?
- Is there any indication that the worker is under unacceptable stress? Eg any increases is sickness or absenteeism?
Take prompt action to address any concerns that are raised and regularly monitor your workplace so that you can deal with these matters before they reach a crisis.
Remember that employees may feel that they cannot say ‘no’ when increasing demands are placed on them in terms of workload and we can take their acquiescence as tacit support for an increase to their workload which may be far from the truth.
Employees may well take on extra work and endeavour to cope with the stress until they reach a point where this is no longer manageable. This can happen suddenly and unexpectedly if management is not actively monitoring the workplace and the employees within it.
Remember to meet regularly with staff both in group sessions and individually so that you get consistent and timely feedback. Such meetings can be done relatively informally and kept low key but may assist in avoiding unpleasant surprises when a Medical Certificate suddenly appears.