We are pleased to introduce our CIPD qualified People Partner (Talent) Ross, who will to be sharing some of his excellent HR insight for edays articles and blog posts going forward. Ross provides unique observations, and we are confident he will present you with some useful tips and tools to help review some of your current processes.
April is Stress Awareness Month. Here at edays, we think it is important to proactively address stress and help your staff feel supported when they need it most. In this month’s article, Ross looks at ways to improve your company’s approach to stress-related absences and embed it within your culture.
According to a 2021 HSE report, in the financial year 2020/21, 50% of all work-related ill-health cases were equated to stress, depression, and anxiety in the UK. This was 822,000 reported cases. Stress is a massive cause of leave taken in the workplace, but there are measures and interventions that can be put into place so managing this doesn’t need to be reactive. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never have anyone go off on leave again, but it does help foster positive relationships for those who are suffering so they can get back on track in their personal and working lives.
And how do we do that? Well, the lucky thing is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just maybe remind ourselves that its round. It also doesn’t mean you have to fork out thousands for a company to bring you pears into the office once a month. It is about policy, procedures, and culture – that’s it!
Sickness is not a dirty word. It isn’t a policy you need to bring out with caution or hide behind glass with ‘break in case of emergency’ written across it. People get sick, and it is our job as an employer to support them on their journey. When creating a sickness policy, it is important to consider more than standard sickness to ensure that staff are completely supported with the stress and strain that can come with work. Every business must follow the same legal requirements and legislations on what a policy must include naturally but creating a robust sickness policy can help support more than stress – it can help support staff engagement and lower the risk of churn for your employees as they will feel respected and looked after by an employer.
When building out your policies it is important to acknowledge the mental health and wellbeing of your employees. Modern HR has a responsibility to try and mitigate issues of their staff by enabling and giving them the tools to manage their mental health. This can feed itself into reward with items such as Employee Assistance Programs – but allowing people the time to recover without worrying about being reprimanded or letting people down can allow for a healthier positive workforce to grow.
So, what to put in the policy? The solution doesn’t have to be weeks off for every employee the second they feel stress as that would be counterproductive to employability, performance, and business growth. But, what if your policy simply outlined mental health as a valid reason to take a sick day? The time people tend to take off for mental health tends to be two weeks minimum, with mutual extension under the guidance from a medical professional. But a strong policy which stated that mental health was a valid sickness time, and of course fostering a culture that supports this, means people could self-serve in their sickness. At which time, people could have reduced stress and anxiety from reaching a breaking point and may be able to return to work much sooner in a happier state. Keep it clear, comprehensive, and positive.
So, you’ve got a policy in place that supports your staff and gives them the go ahead that if stress is at its peak, then leave is available to support them. What do you do when people go off sick? How do they report it? How is it documented? You’re probably reading that going well, obviously, but how clear are those processes when it comes to needing that information. Day one in a new job you’re given a laptop, meet 800 people, have an induction, as well as cover policies and procedure. Seven months later down the line when you’ve got a stress induced migraine, are you going to be able to remember who it is you need to let know that you’re ill? No – you’ll contact your manager and hope that does it.
Across all aspects of sickness, it is important to have clear and concise sickness procedures so in those moments your staff know what they need to do, and it is as straightforward as possible. My mother recently was diagnosed with covid and had to have three different phone calls before she was able to be signed off sick for the day. In my opinion, this is a process that stretches out far too long. Now, imagine if you had to have three conversations to tell someone that you’re feeling overwhelmed, and your mental health is struggling? This process would likely add more stress and strain to the individual and lengthen their time off from the company. Having a simple way of logging absence can go a long way in allowing employees to feel empowered and able to take time off when they need it!
So, as well as creating a policy, you must ensure you have a clean and concise procedure, so staff don’t feel like they’re jumping through hoops!
So, you’ve got a policy that supports stress leave, a procedure that is clean that means staff know exactly what to do, perfect! But do you have a culture to support it? It only takes a quick scroll of LinkedIn or HR TikTok to say people saying, ‘I can’t take time off because of how it will affect my team’. Obviously, every HR department has questions on resource and budgeting, so hiring five more staff to ensure that people can take that time off isn’t the solution. What you don’t want to do is have staff go off and increase workload and stress for other members in that team. Having a culture where short term leave can support mental health can go miles to supporting the overall wellbeing of your business.
This goes further than buying fruit for the office or early finish Fridays, it is about fostering a culture which embraces leave as something positive. As mentioned in my opening, sick leave is not a dirty word – it is very affirming and can be positive to your business. Allowing people breathing room to be their true selves and embrace the fact they may need a break will overall ramp up productivity as well as help people feel supported in the workplace.
To do so, you need to ensure that your workforce feel empowered to step away from their workload. This is about being proactive with your approach and reaching out to your workforce, whether through managers or internal communication, so that they know they can take that time away when it gets too much. This open conversation when it comes to communicating policy and procedure needs to be carried through into your value proposition for the employees. This might also be not celebrating people who overwork themselves, as that then encourages a culture of people wanting to achieve those same levels, which is toxic in a workforce. Instead, encourage everyone to log off at 5, work to reduce the amount of work done outside of core hours, and create a ‘tools down’ culture so people know their business is going to support them when they need it.
Stress and mental health are so important to supporting your staff. And this month there is not a better time to start looking into how you can improve policy, procedure, and culture to ensure that staff have the permission to look after their mental health in the workplace.