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Stress related absence from work: Policies, procedures & workplace culture

17 April 2024 6 min read

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April is Stress Awareness Month in the UK, so we’re taking a look at what stress-related absence from work looks like. In this blog we’ll explore the policies, procedures and workplace cultural behaviours that are needed to minimise and reduce the impact of stress at work.

To avoid potential problems in your organisation like burnout, employee turnover and resourcing challenges, it’s important to proactively address stress in the workplace, and help staff feel supported when they need it most.

Stress related absence from work was one of the main reasons for which accounted for all sickness absences between 2022 and 2023, with employees taking an average of 19.6 days off due to stress, depression or anxiety.

Clearly stress is a massive cause of sick leave taken, but there are measures and interventions that can be put in 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.

Policy

Sickness and stress related absence from work are inevitable. And when they happen, it’s an employer’s responsibility to offer support to help an employee return to work smoothly, get back on track, and make sure they’re able to continue with their work effectively.

It’s important to consider more than standard sickness leave when creating or updating absence management policies, to ensure that staff are completely supported with the stress and strain that can come with work.

Of course, every organisation must follow the same legal requirements and legislation on what a policy must include. But considering an enhanced sick leave policy, and detailing as much as possible when it comes to different scenarios that can occur, will help to support employee engagement, lower the risk of turnover, and help nurture a positive and supportive workplace culture.

When building out your policies it’s important to acknowledge the mental health and wellbeing of your employees. 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 be in the form of items such as Employee Assistance Programmes, but, even small shifts in attitude such as allowing people the time to recover without worrying about being reprimanded 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 is around two weeks, 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.

Procedure

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? What happens in the event of long-term sickness (and how does your organisation define ‘long-term’)?

They might sound like obvious points, but having clear procedures in writing and clearly accessible for employees will avoid confusion, frustration, and help to clarify who needs to do what and when in the event of sickness absence.

Across all aspects of sickness, it’s important to have clear and concise procedures so in those moments your staff know what they need to do, and it’s as straightforward as possible. This works both ways, as a simple procedure whereby line managers are able to authorise and log sickness absences easily, and employees just need to inform one person of their absence, makes for a better employee experience all-round.

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!

Culture

You’ve got a policy and procedures in place that support stress leave, but do you have a culture to match it? It only takes a quick scroll of LinkedIn to see 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 to aid mental health is encouraged can go miles to supporting the overall wellbeing of your organisation.

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. This open conversation when it comes to communicating policy and procedure needs to be carried through into your value proposition for all 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 the end of the working day, work to reduce the amount of work done outside of core hours, and create a ‘tools down’ culture so people know their organisation is going to support them when they need it.

How can edays help?

When it comes to stress related absence from work, knowing your absence rates is a vital step in gaining visibility over your workforce.

Logging every absence, along with the reason for the absence, will give you a clear picture of the health and wellbeing of your employees. And with edays, recording absences and absence reporting can be done in seconds – no more spreadsheets to try and keep up to date.

Through our configurable system, you can see how many sickness absences have been taken during a set period of time. These absences can be compared across individuals, teams, departments and different offices across your entire organisation, so you can spot patterns and potential issues amongst team members before they become disruptive to your organisation.

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Lewis at edays
Lewis
April 17, 2024

Lewis is a highly skilled marketing professional with extensive experience in the HR and SaaS sectors. His writing focuses on discussing key topics and challenges for HR surrounding absence and leave management, digital transformation, employee experience and effective resource planning.