Pg26 Health and SafetyWhen managing your organisation’s health and safety, don’t forget about the issue that affects one in three people in the UK.

Crouching in the shadows it can have enormous negative impact on employee wellbeing, is a huge drain on productivity and is thought to be a strong contributor to absenteeism. And yet, it still passes unnoticed and unmanaged by many organisations. The issue is stress.

The sources of stress in the workplace are many: job-related anxiety, depression, workplace conflict or bullying, high workloads, heavy pressure and more. Stress and anxiety often go undiagnosed or unreported, particularly in the “macho” environment of construction sites. As a result, some construction companies claim they have never had an employee suffering from mental health problems, but national statistics tell a different story.

A very tangible impact

Work-related stress, depression and anxiety account for more than a third of all work-related illnesses in Great Britain. These pressures account for more than 11 million lost working days across the UK every year.

In addition, stress and anxiety can lead to:

  • lower morale in the workforce
  • physical illnesses in individuals
  • accidents and injuries
  • in extreme cases, self-harm or suicide

All employers have legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the welfare (physical and mental) of their employees. This includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness or injury.

The win-win of Health & Safety

Dealing with any health and safety issue is not just about jumping through legislative hoops. Good health and safety management is about creating win-win situations between workers and employers.

When stress is managed at work, it will no longer be a cause for absenteeism, and employees will be happier and more productive.

Look at Google who has once again rated as the Number 1 “Great Place to Work” in surveys by both Fortune and Glassdoor. Google is famous for demonstrating care and concern for its employees, and its chief people officer, Laszlo Bock, explains the win-win like this:

“The reason we’re doing these things for employees is not because it’s important to the business, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. When it comes down to it, it’s better to work for a company who cares about you than a company who doesn’t. And from a company standpoint, that makes it better to care than not to care.”

Looking after your people

The HSE has published Management Standards for work-related stress. Simply monitoring these six sources of stress in your organisation is a powerful first step. But monitoring the risk factors should be followed up with stress management plans.

You may not have Google’s budget for employee perks, but there are plenty of cheap or free ideas that can be implemented to reduce stress and to show concern for your employees’ mental wellness. Try:

  • saying “Thank you”
  • asking “How are you?” (and sincerely listening to the answer!)
  • ensuring that your employees’ work is meaningful
  • being swift to stamp out harassment
  • employing suitable humour in your meetings and memos
  • providing adequate down-time for your employees to rest and socialise
  • ensuring managers take a few minutes of one-to-one time to engage with each worker every week
  • sourcing feedback from your employees (and then showing you care by acting on it)

It is impossible to eliminate all stress at work, especially amongst the pressures of the construction industry, and some employee stress will come from sources outside your control. Nevertheless, wherever possible, the risks of harm from stress should be controlled and minimised. Remember: “It makes better sense to care than not to care.”

David Cant
Veritas Consulting