What to do when an employee is off sick with stress

What to do when an employee is off sick with stress

6 October 2022

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According to data gathered by BUPA, around 1 in 40 workers experienced work-related stress in 2021 and approximately 18 million working days are lost each year due to stress. That’s over 50% of all absence from work which is attributed to one reason.

Throughout our lives we will all experience stress at different times and in different ways. Situations which stress one person may not necessarily stress another. There are numerous factors which determine how people cope with and react to stress.

What is stress?

The Health and Safety Executive define stress as, “‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”. The HSE also identifies six main areas which can have an impact on levels of stress that need to be carefully managed. Those six areas are:

  • Demands
  • Control
  • Support
  • Relationships
  • Role
  • Change

Signs of stress

Recognising when an employee is showing signs of stress can be difficult as stress manifests itself in various ways from emotional symptoms such as loss of confidence, feeling overwhelmed and being unusually irritable, to physical symptoms like increased tiredness, headaches and even chest pains. It is important to try and recognise signs especially if any of the six factors mentioned above are prevalent. For example if a colleague is struggling with additional demands placed on them due to a tight deadline, they could find it harder to concentrate or the previous high quality of their work might reduce which could indicate they are suffering with stress.

What can you do to help?

The first thing to try and establish is the root cause of the stress. It might be purely work related, there may be issues outside of work as well and it is important to be sympathetic to whatever the problem is. You want to reassure your employee that you want to help and that what they tell you will be handled sensitively. You may not be able to provide solutions but listen, be patient and communicate honestly and openly. Your employee may be happy to remain in work or they may take time off. Whichever way the situation plays out, keep channels of communication open. Continue to offer support and signpost them to professional help if needed.

If your team member is absent then arrange check ins and look at options to support their return. For example, temporary flexible working or reduced responsibilities for an agreed period. You could also perform a stress risk assessment, provide a wellness plan or have regular catch ups to make sure that they are doing well. It might also be useful for them to speak to their GP or your occupational health provider. You can also look at more pro-active approaches which help to prevent stress in the first place. These can include wellbeing awareness events and the provision of mental health first aiders for example. You also need to ensure that the culture within your business encourages people to seek help and talk so that stress is not seen as a weakness.

What can HRX do to support me with this?

HRX’s absence recording and reporting functionality gives you an at a glance insight into your employees’ absence records. By regularly reviewing absence you can start to notice patterns. You’re able to see when employees who typically have excellent attendance suddenly begin to have sporadic or even sustained periods of absence. A robust and supportive return to work process is also a good way to help your employees. You can have a face-to-face meeting and learn about your employees stress related concerns and offer help. By offering this early intervention, issues can hopefully be addressed before they become serious.

The knowledge base in HRX gives you a great return to work meeting form template so that you ask all the right questions and identify if stress is an issue. Once completed, those forms can then be uploaded to the employee record section so that there is a full history to look back on if needed. Sign up to your FREE 30 day trial to see how else you can support your employees.


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