News & Events


Workplace Stress – What should we be doing to help?

“Employees are a company’s greatest asset” – Anne M Mulcahy

Most companies pride themselves on being “people friendly employers”. Throughout the UK companies spend millions on employee engagement in an attempt not only to retain the best staff, but also to recruit the best talent from the UK and abroad. These days, owing to an increase in employee friendly websites such as Glassdoor and national awards such as the Times’ Best Companies To Work For, the expectations of employees are increasing and, as a result, employers are adapting to the changing requirements.

But it is not just niche perks such as “Paw-ternity leave” (a week’s paid leave offered to staff with new puppies; offered by Brewdog) or free childcare (offered by Google) that are attracting employees. Nowadays more and more employees are prioritising physical and mental benefits such as a proper work life balance, flexible working hours and ultimately a job where they are not flogged into an early grave by work pressures. So, whilst companies are quick in shouting about their “DNA”, their passion for employee engagement and their public support for campaigns such as Mental Health at Work, does the lip service often spouted from the boardroom actually make it to the shop floor? The evidence appears to show unfortunately not.

The results of a recent joint report (the Health and Well-being at Work Survey 2019) commissioned by CIPD, in association with Simply Health, landed on our desk in April 2019. The report, which takes into account feedback from over 1000 professionals, provides an interesting breakdown of not only the medical reason for absences but, just as importantly, the root causes for such absences in the workplace.

The report, stretching to some 49 pages and available from the link below, contains a recurring theme throughout, namely the rise in absences relating to stress at work. During the 2018/2019 period in question, the report found that 37% of businesses had seen an increase in stress related absence. This increase is alarming, especially given the campaigns by organisations such as MIND to increase awareness of mental health issues in the workplace over recent years.

The report also identifies worrying root causes of the absences, pointing to workloads (62%) and management style (43%) as the main reasons for stress related absences in the workplace. It is not lost on the writer that the report also reveals that, of those questioned, only 50% of line managers had been trained to manage stress, with a similar number reporting a belief that managers have bought into the importance of mental wellbeing and the effects working life can have on employees.

We speak to hundreds of businesses as part of our role as advisers and when defending employment tribunal claims on their behalf. It is clear that, whilst mental health is paid lip service and remains a hot topic for most businesses, when questioned about the lack of training, the same excuses are repeated - cost and time. But with recent stats showing approximately 15.4 million working days lost in 2017/2018 due to stress, depression and anxiety, this is false economy. The money spent properly training line managers to identify and address instances of stress at an earlier stage may avoid employee absence and lead to a more productive and content workplace for everyone.

It is a common belief in most businesses that mental health is an issue that should be dealt with exclusively by HR or occupational health. For those in an HR background reading this, it is an all too familiar story that the first you often hear of such employee issues is when a GP fit note lands on your desk from an individual who may already have been struggling for weeks or months without any proper assistance.

Failure to address instances of stress or mental health issues at an early stage can lead to far more than employee absence. A quick glance at the now publicly available employment tribunal judgments show a plethora of disability discrimination claims arising from stress related issues. Such claims carry the threat of unlimited compensation against businesses, money which would be better spent addressing the root cause of the workplace issues.

Almost every business or HR professional knows of an employee who has suffered from stress in the workplace. Some receive proper assistance, but unfortunately most don’t. We can only agree with the report’s authors, CIPD and Simply Health, that greater investment in management training is required to address the issue of stress and mental health in the workplace.

Employees are a company’s greatest asset. So let’s do more to look after them?

What does this mean for your business?

The financial impact of stress and mental health in the workplace is rarely calculated by businesses who instead tend to focus on output and general overheads as markers. An internal study of work related absences or reduced performance may identify areas of the business which could be improved with the proper training or processes in place to address issues before they become a problem.

Recommended Reading

A link to the CIPD/Simply Health report is available HERE.


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.



Get in touch

Talk to us about your legal challenges and discover how our expert, pragmatic legal advice and broad commercial acumen can help.