Worthing Homes devised a stress management strategy after discovering it was a major cause of employees’ sickness absence.
Last year, we noticed our sickness absence levels were rising, and that staff were increasingly mentioning stress and anxiety as the cause of their absence. This prompted us to undertake an employee survey, which revealed increased levels of stress compared with previous survey results.
We wanted to take positive steps to improve the situation as soon as possible and so, with the help of The Stress Society, we formulated a plan of action to be led by HR with the involvement of senior management and other managers.
Stress audit of employees
We undertook a stress audit of all employees, which gave us a benchmark to identify areas where we have good practice and areas that need improvement. We considered the demands placed on staff, the level of control they have while at work, the support available for them, and the extent to which they understand the organisation’s aims and their own roles.
We aim to carry out a second stress audit 12 months after the first one, and hope we will be able to demonstrate reduced stress levels and greater levels of employee satisfaction.
After the audit, we introduced a new stress and wellbeing policy. We also reviewed our sickness absence policy and reminded managers about monitoring and managing absence. This includes making sure back-to-work meetings take place and reminding managers about the kind of support we can offer staff. We emphasised the importance of regular one-to-one meetings between managers and their teams to ensure staff have an opportunity to talk about their workloads and any issues that are building up.
We emphasised a focus on wellbeing and preventative measures and reminded managers to inform staff about the subsidised monthly holistic therapy sessions that are available during work time. We also highlighted the fact that staff can request flexible working and that we have people working many different patterns, such as part time, job shares and nine-day fortnights.
We have reminded managers there is also a range of more reactive measures we can use, such as offering counselling or mediation, or liaising with occupational health.
As part of our action plan, we organised a mandatory course for all staff. We ran a one-day workshop for managers or team leaders and half-day workshops for other employees. The training helped staff understand stress and how it affects people, including when stress can actually be appropriate and beneficial. It also covered stress reduction techniques.
Many of our staff enjoyed the meditation sessions and learned practical tips to help them cope with stress better. The managers also learned how to recognise stress in colleagues.
Work continues to ensure the health and wellbeing of our employees remains a key focus. For example, we have introduced a suggestions box for staff, and we are organising free wellbeing MOTs for staff via a local organisation.
Employers with stress management issues should remember not to panic, recognise the good practice that already exists within their organisation and build on the positives. It is also important to view the results of any staff survey or stress audit in a wider context. For example, there may have been some exceptional targets and workload at the time the audit took place.
Above all, remember that creating and maintaining a positive, productive working environment, and improving the health and wellbeing of staff helps to reduce absenteeism, retain excellent employees, and improve morale.
- Early intervention can help to minimise stress-related sickness absence.
- A stress audit can help an employer assess the wellbeing of its workforce.
- Management training and meditation sessions can help to manage stress.
Jo Moody is human resources adviser at Worthing Homes