Wednesday 22 January 2020

How can I be proactive in protecting the well-being of staff working in demanding jobs?

Stock image
Stock image

Caroline McEnery

Q: I know my employees have a busy life, with personal and demanding work commitments. Is there anything I can do to be proactive in making sure well-being is a factor in the workplace?

A: Staff dissatisfaction at work and stress at work have become significant factors for employers to contend with. This poses a concern in itself, separate to the significant cost of managing these for the employer.

Many of us, as employees and employers, encounter varying degrees of stress throughout the course of our working days. Workplace stress occurs "when the demands of the job and the working environment on a person exceeds their capacity to meet them". There are varying factors which cause work-related stress such as poor communications, bullying and harassment, work overload, long or unsocial hours, etc.

Employers have a duty of care to employees. This is reinforced in the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005. It is wise for employers to have a procedure in place to tackle the issue should they identify an employee experiencing such stress. This not only empowers the employer to take action to help the employee, but it also shows the employee experiencing stress and other co-workers that the company cares and that they are willing to help alleviate such stresses.

Ensuring well-being is inherent in the workplace will give rise to benefits such as retention of healthy happy employees, decreased rates of illness/injury, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, increased morale and satisfaction.

How To Manage Work-Related Stress And Well-being Into Your Workplace

  • Awareness and proactiveness: Employers should ensure that demands that are placed on employees are reasonable.

It is best practice that if employers become aware of staff members suffering from stress, they take action immediately to ascertain the cause and identify ways of removing the stressor. Often one of the first instances of when an employer becomes aware that an employee is suffering from stress is when they receive a sickness certificate from the employee. Once this occurs, the employer should write to the employee immediately expressing concern regarding the nature of the illness.

The employer must take steps to establish the cause of the stress and remove it, if practicable, for the employee's health and safety. There are a number of actions which an employer can take in dealing with work-related stress. Each individual case is unique to the individual circumstances and each employer must bear this in mind in evaluating the best course of action to tackle the issues.

  • Referral: One such action is to refer an employee for an Occupational Health Assessment which will provide them with objective medical advice on the employee's condition.
  • Causes: Another is to identify the causes of stress, be they working hours or workload and take steps to alleviate them. The employer can also offer the employee sick leave, annual leave or unpaid leave to take time to recover.
  • Policies: Policies and procedures can be put in place to protect and support employees can include Dignity at Work, Grievance and Discipline Procedures.
  • Information: According to the findings by the Nutrition and Health Foundation (NHF), many of Ireland's workers want to become healthier and would like to see their employers playing a role in this. Provide information on general wellness ideas - group walks after work, charity events, Darkness into Light, nutritional ideas, following Operation Transformation etc.
  • Time management: Implement time management training. This will provide guidelines and self-management skills so that your team can manage and execute their workload in a time-efficient manner, thus reducing personal stress levels and freeing up time to allow for a better work-life balance.
  • Communication: Meet employees on a regular one-to-one basis to discuss performance and goals. Have brainstorming sessions with your team for improving happiness and well-being at work.

Caroline McEnery, managing director of The HR Suite, is a member of the Low Pay Commission and is an adjudicator in the Work Place Relations Commission. She is also author of The Art of Asking the Right Questions

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