Whose stress is it anyway?

It is a real hassle when an employee is off with depression or “stress”. We discussed stress and depression in an earlier blog. Typically it happens when a department is already overstretched, a deadline is looming or the employee has just achieved 12 months service with you. Anyone who has managed a small unit or small business knows how much stress it can create. Their stress becomes your stress.

We usually advise that you should invite the employee in to meet with you to discuss the absence. That first meeting is really important because it may make the difference between a tolerable work-around and a long term serious problem. Before railing at them for daring to be absent, it is worth taking stock.

Most stress arises outside of the work situation but there might be areas where you have some responsibility. Typical in-work stressers include:

  • Work overload, which is often allied with:
  • Training needs; eg the employee may need training so they can cope with similar workloads to others
  • Role ambiguity – are they subject to conflicting expectations or mixed messages, perhaps from different managers?
  • Bullying – are they subject to repeated criticism, aggression or to discriminatory behaviour?

Some of these questions are vitally important, for example one overloaded employee (in an extreme case) succeeded in settling for £175,000 in damages. Five figures sums for discriminatory behaviour are too frequent.

However you are not necessarily responsible for the stress and, as we said in an earlier blog, the employee might be better off at work where they will be in a familiar situation. Recently many employees have felt forced into retirement – so coming to work must have its attractions.

It can be important to put responsibility on the employee to see if they can take any actions as we will see in a later blog.

In the meantime we are always happy to advise clients, new and current, in particular cases.

Related Blog:

Stress is now the number one cause of long term absence – official

Stress: seek first to understand, then to be understood (Stephen Covey)

Stress and the long term absentee – can you say “goodbye”?

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