Employers should be doing more to support staff left to work harder because colleagues have been made redundant.
That’s the message from Stuart Jones, head of employment at the Liverpool office of Weightmans, who says businesses are taking great care to ensure they don’t end up at an employment tribunal as a result of redundancies but are forgetting about the staff still working for them.
The lawyer has seen more reports of stress in the workplace because of this.
He said: “In the current economic climate there’s more pressure on employers who are trying to drive efficiencies and save money, which is impacting on employees.
“The other side is employees are being more strongly managed because employers want to get more out of the business and can’t afford people who aren’t putting as much effort in.”
Law does not recognise stress as an illness. If a civil claim in the county court is to be successful you need to prove you have a psychiatric injury, such as clinical depression.
But employees bringing claims for stress against their employers is still common, with 428,000 (40%) such cases out of a total of 1,073,000 for all work-related illnesses in the UK last year.
Mr Jones says the key for employers in guarding against workplace stress is to provide an open environment.
“It’s got to come from the top,” said Mr Jones.
“It’s about the culture of how you measure success.
“Is it a jacket on back of chair mentality where the longer you’re in the office the better it is without looking at the productivity?
“It’s not a benefit to the business to have people in the office for a long time.”
He added it can help if staff are sent on time management courses.
“People who get stressed are often not very good at managing their time,” he said.
“Companies should make it clear right from the start at the induction that work life balance is important.
“There should be an expression you want people to work hard but if they’re feeling stressed they should talk to someone, whether that’s HR or a confidential helpline the business has.
“You need to monitor workloads, if staff are too busy they will make mistakes. It’s a false economy because that affects the client service and then you end up losing work.”
Tied up with the importance of an open and honest culture in the office, Mr Jones says communication is vital, especially when expecting employees to deal with a change in the way they work.
The lawyer reports that he has seen several cases where loyal employees who have worked for a company for years become stressed when they are forced to alter the way they work.
“It needs an understanding by the employer about how they send the message down to the employees,” he said.
If a person does take time off work with stress, the onus is on the employer to keep the channels of communication open.
Mr Jones said: “If it’s an issue with the line manager, or you anticipate it might be, send someone else to speak to them, perhaps from HR.
“Meet with the employee, maybe in a mutual location, as often people don’t want to come into the office when they’re off because they’re embarrassed and worried people will ask what is wrong with them.
“You should also refer them to occupational health and consider whether workplace mediation is needed.”