When is a Manager Responsible for Stress at Work?

We all understand that employers need to provide a safe and secure place to work. With high stress levels and incidents of depression often caused by large workloads and bad practices, however, what are the responsibilities of mangers when it comes to the welfare of staff in their charge?

According to the Heath and Safety Executive (HSE):

  • There were over half a million workers suffering from anxiety, depression or stress related illnesses in 2017/18.
  • Over 12 million working hours were lost to businesses because of this.
  • 44% of people experience stress because of large workloads.
  • 14% cite lack of support as a cause for their anxiety or depression.

There are a number of pieces of legislation that outline the duty of care employers must demonstrate towards employees at work. These include disability and equality laws as well as health and safety legislation.

What it comes down to is that managers must be aware of their responsibilities and put in processes to deal with employees who are having trouble coping with stress or suffering from depression.

The Causes of Stress and Depression

An employee might well have mental health issues stemming from something that is happening outside the workplace. It could be that they are looking after an elderly relative, suffered a bereavement or are coping with an illness.

In other circumstances, it could well be the workplace that is primarily contributing to high levels of stress or depression. They might be unable to cope with their work or are being bullied by another member of staff, even a manager.

It’s important to understand the underlying cause if measures are going to be put in place to help the employee. It’s also vital to gain their confidence so that they feel able to talk to someone in the workplace and seek help to resolve their problems.

The Importance of a Risk Assessment

The truth is that line managers and leaders are often not well trained to cope with mental health issues such as stress and depression in the workplace. This includes recording instances of sickness and absence and statistics relating to turnover and contributing to the development of robust policies and procedures to handle mental health issues when they arise.

Good Communication and Support is Important

Being able to talk to a manager when there is a problem such as anxiety or depression is vital for any employee. It’s not always easy to convince someone who has an issue like this to talk openly about it to their line manager. That’s why training is so important, ensuring that manager is first able to recognise an issue and then put in measures to help the person in a positive way.

For the manager this almost certainly means showing their empathetic side. They’ll document the issue a particular employee has and be sensitive to what they need. There may be adjustments that can be made in the workplace depending on the underlying problem. This should never be seen as inconvenient but a way of assisting the employee to function better and provide an aid in improving their path to full health.

Reducing Stress in the Workplace

Good managers are not only able to recognise problems but are willing to do something about it.

That includes:

  • Setting clear goals for members of the team.
  • Ensuring that employees know they can talk openly about their problems, including stress and depression.
  • Allowing flexibility in working practices to help reduce stress levels.
  • Monitoring staff stress including sickness and absences and putting in measures to help reduce triggers in the workplace.

Stress and depression in the workplace can manifest in different ways. An employee might become more withdrawn, irritable or take more time off work.

It’s important that managers are better trained to spot the signs of deteriorating mental health and be equipped to do something about it.


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