According to the Health and Safety Executive, “employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it”.
Nevertheless, the 19th annual Health and Well-being at Work
report, produced by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), in partnership with health insurance provider Simplyhealth, found just 48% of businesses have carried out a stress risk assessment or stress audit. This is down from 58% in 2018.
The research surveyed 1,078 professionals covering 3.2 million employees and shows that nearly two-fifths of organisations (37%) had seen stress-related absence increase over the past year. Those in larger organisations with more than 250 employees were particularly likely to say stress-related absence had risen.
Excessive workloads was the leading cause of workplace stress – a problem often blamed on poor management – while management style was the second biggest contributor according to 43% of respondents, up from 32% the previous year.
The CIPD said this “worrying” increase in management style as a key cause of work-related stress highlights the need for businesses to devote more resources to training line managers, who play a vital front-line role in supporting workers with their health and wellbeing. It has called on employers to increase their investment in management training to curb stress at work.
The report revealed that respondents are still significantly more likely to disagree than agree that managers are confident to have sensitive discussions and signpost staff to expert sources of help if needed or that they are confident and competent to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health.
The survey found only half of organisations gave line managers the necessary training, so they could support their staff to better manage stress, and only 37% trained them to spot the warning signs of presenteeism (attending work when sick) and leavism (working during annual leave).
As a result, more than four-fifths (83%) of respondents said they had observed presenteeism in their organisations and a quarter admitted the problem had worsened. Additionally, almost two-thirds (63%) reported seeing incidents of leavism.
On a positive note, more respondents agreed that employee wellbeing is on senior leaders’ agenda (61% compared with 55% last year).
Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “Managers should be helping to alleviate stress among their staff, not contributing to it. But too many managers are being set up to fail because they haven’t received adequate training, despite them often being the first person employees will turn to when they have a problem.
“Rates of presenteeism and leavism, which are both linked to stress, remain stubbornly high. Employers have a responsibility to tackle these bad habits. They must also realise that staff are not going to perform at their best if they are working when ill or using up holiday to work rather than recharge.
“It's vital that businesses recognise the importance of wellbeing initiatives and training for line managers. Senior leaders should work with their HR experts to ensure there is sufficient training and an overall culture of well-being in their workplaces.”
Pam Whelan, director of corporate at Simplyhealth, said: “Line managers play a front-line role and are often best placed to support with health and well-being, but this year’s report shows there is more work to be done to better support them with training and guidance.
“In addition, there are further steps organisations can take to help reduce stress-related absence and encourage a preventative approach. Fostering a culture where employees feel they can seek support when they need it is key, and initiatives such as offering an employee assistance programme and flexible working arrangements can help improve an employee’s work/life balance.”