06.08.2009 Why tackling stress in your business is important

Why tackling stress in your business is important

The costs of neglecting stress in your business can be high. Stress is sometimes overlooked as a health and safety issue by small businesses. The unexpected absence of just one member of staff can affect productivity, and efforts to secure cover can be costly and time-consuming.
Stress can cause many workplace problems, including:
  • a fall in your productivity and that of your employees
  • poor decision-making
  • an increase in mistakes which may in turn lead to more customer complaints
  • increased sickness absence
  • high staff turnover
  • poor workplace relations

Stress often has a cumulative effect. If one member of staff becomes ill through stress, it places added pressure on those covering for them.

A stressed manager may find it difficult to create a positive working environment and monitor stress levels in others.
It's also important to tackle any stress you face as an owner-manager or self-employed person. This is often caused by working excessively long hours or from a feeling of isolation.
Your legal duty on stress

Employers have a legal duty to ensure employees aren't made ill by their work. This includes taking steps to prevent physical and mental illness brought about by stress. These steps need not cost a lot of money and the benefits can be significant.
You must assess the risks of stress caused, or made worse, by work as part of your overall health and safety risk assessment. 
One of the best ways of assessing stress levels in your business is to carry out a stress audit: A Stress Audit involves talking informally to staff - either individually or in groups - to find out where there may be concerns. Let employees know why you are carrying out the exercise and what you're trying to achieve - ie that you hope to prevent future problems or cure any existing ones.

If you have safety representatives, involve them in your plans and decision-making. Always respect the confidentiality of staff.

A useful exercise is to ask staff to list the three best and worst things about their job and whether any of these put them under excessive pressure.

You can also use questionnaires to gather the same information. Though there's a range of commercially available questionnaires, you may be better off developing your own checklist to fit the particular needs and working conditions of your business.

There are a number of key areas you should consider:

  • work scheduling and the type of work
  • working relationships with colleagues
  • the level of communication and reporting
  • the physical working environment
  • employees' expectations of their work
  • Don't forget to monitor your own stress levels. See the page in this guide on dealing with your own stress.

Failure to take action could leave you open to a compensation claim from workers who fall ill due to work-related stress.

Useful Link: .  A tremendous amount of useful information pertaining to managing work-related stress can be found on the HSE official website, including downloads.

Dealing with you own stress (owner-managers & the self-employed)

With specific reference to the SME, owner-managers and self-employed people need to learn to identify the signs of their own stress and take steps to tackle it.

Signs that you might be experiencing stress yourself could include:

  • poor judgement and indecisiveness
  • difficulty in concentrating
  • a lack of assertiveness
  • irritability, aggressiveness, depression or loss of sense of humour
  • physical symptoms such as breathlessness, headaches, chest pains, nausea, sleeplessness, high blood pressure and constant tiredness

Stress can be magnified if you work alone. If you have no one to confide in, it can be easy for things to get out of proportion.

This can be a particular problem for owner-managers who don't have the support of a management team and who may feel under pressure to work through periods of stress to ensure the continuity of the business. Although employees expect the managing director to know what to do in a given situation, you may in fact need help yourself.

In addition, business owners often have significant capital invested in the business, putting added pressure on key decisions.

One way of dealing with this is to network with people running businesses of a similar size to talk through each other's problems.

You might even bring in a mentor to help you cope with the pressures of running your business.

If you are suffering from stress, you need to try to:
  • identify and tackle the underlying causes
  • practise relaxation techniques
  • improve your diet and cut back where appropriate on smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • do regular exercise
  • avoid regularly working long hours if at all possible
  • make sure you take holidays
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