This week (14 May – 20 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is stress – and how we are coping with it. We all have mental health – it moves up and down on a spectrum and is affected by a range of factors both in our personal lives and in our professional lives. 1 in 6 workers is dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress.

Stress is defined as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”. Sometimes, stress is good. It can help us to focus on the task at hand but other times stress gets out of hand and we can feel overwhelmed; both mentally and physically. At this point, stress becomes a problem for the employee and the organisation they work for.

In recent years, awareness of mental health at work has been growing and there are many reasons why businesses should care about stress in the workplace. For example, stressed staff are less productive, stressed staff can raise absenteeism and staff turnover can increase. According to the Health and Safety Executive (SFE), stress account for more than one-third of work-related illness in 2015-16 and a loss of 11.7 million working days. Businesses perform better when their staff are healthy, focused and motivated but fewer than two-thirds of companies are taking steps to identify and reduce stress in the workplace.

Ultimately, smart employers are those who support their people – the most valuable asset in any workplace. Work is often the most stressful factor in people’s lives. They may feel like they cannot cope with the amount of work or the type of work they are asked to do. Nevertheless, individuals often feel unable to ask for help. Sometimes, managers lack the confidence to support an individual or worry about doing and saying something wrong but the lack of communication between an individual and their manager can exasperate the problem. Developing an open culture builds up people’s confidence to speak up earlier.

Once a dialogue is open between the employer and employee, the priority should be to help them develop the positive steps they need to take in order to address their key issues. These steps can be small adjustments such as offering extra support or more significant such as a change in working hours. Clear policies on reasonable workplace adjustments is a practical and cost-effective way to support staff and reduce mental health related absence.

In some cases, employees may need to take a leave of absence. Businesses should be clear that they will continue to support their people during their absence and reassure them that their job will still be waiting for them when they return. Again, you should continue keeping regular and open communication with people, whether that is by phone, email, text or face-to-face, and keep checking that the current arrangement is still working for them. If it’s not, find out what you can do to help.

As with physical health, prevention is better than a cure. If you think that somebody may be experiencing difficulty, raise the issue. Your people can perform poorly if they have no say in how or when they do their work so you could try to involve them more and consult employees about decisions that need to be made. Review individual and business performance regularly to identify what’s going well and what is going less well. Having regular catch-up’s with your people will make it easier for them to come to you with a problem.

For more help:

Download free guide from Mind

What is stress? What might cause it? How it can affect you? Includes information about ways you can help yourself and how to get support.

Download mental health risk assessment 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a useful section on its website including a risk assessment template.

Try the Line Manager Competency Tool

Prepare managers to recognise and deal with stress in the workplace