Why prioritising employee stress is important all year round

Adrian Matthews, Head of Employee Benefits at MetLife UK

An estimated 74% of UK adults feel so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope and the most common cause of stress is work-related. With daily commitments and a need to constantly balance home life and work, the strain caused can lead to a significant impact on mental and physical health.

With sick days at work hitting the highest level for 10 years and mental illness being a main cause, employers must be equipped with the right policies and benefits to support their employees.

National Stress Awareness Day, taking place on Thursday 2nd November, aims to highlight the ways that stress can affect people and what individuals, families, friends, and employers can do to manage this before it becomes a problem.

Here, Adrian Matthews, Head of Employee Benefits at MetLife UK, shares his top tips for helping employers support employees dealing with stress:

1.     Communicate, communicate, communicate:

In the new age of hybrid working, it is easier than ever for employees to hide behind a screen, especially those who have greater flexibility over when they work in the office. While some employees may be open about the stress they are facing, some will feel hesitant and take advantage of hybrid working to cover up their true stress.

Therefore, employers should have an open line of communication both virtually and in-person along with an intent to build relationships and trust with employees such as regular face to face touchpoints or 121s. Talking is renowned as an important way to handle stress before it becomes a problem so making sure employees feel comfortable to open up is imperative.

  1. Encourage regular annual leave:

Presenteeism can prove challenging as staff feel unable to take annual leave with the fear of an increasing workload on their return.  Some employees also find it difficult to switch off. Employers must watch carefully for this type of employee, especially if they are continuing to work long hours. Not only can this lead to extreme burnout in many cases but also an increase in sick days as this type of employee pushes themselves to continue working through mental or physical strain. Helping employees to plan their annual leave throughout the year and reiterating the importance of taking an extended break, can be a small step with huge benefits to working culture and the happiness of employees.

3.     Keep an eye on burnout:

As employees face home and work life challenges, they may begin to experience elongated stress that will eventually lead to burnout. Being aware of changes to an employee’s productivity is vital. Managers need to be vigilant when monitoring how individuals interact or show signs of disengagement.

With sick days at work hitting the highest level in 10 years and a main factor cited being mental illness and stress, employers must show support and consider alternative methods to enable employees to return to the office after a sick period or holiday, without immediately being met with an uptick in stress due to their workload. A simple method to avoid this is for employers to encourage teams to share an email the day before employees return to work with any updates and actions that happened during their time off, or to schedule a quick catch up call on their return to the office to update them on priorities.

4.     Valuing benefits packages:

Providing the right benefits package is essential to retain and support an engaged, happy workforce and will make sure employees feel supported in and out of the workplace. A business is only as strong as its people so investing in these policies, as well as implementing them into the work culture will help avoid stress and anxiety becoming a larger problem.

Employers should offer 24/7 access to an employee assistance programme (EAP) which is designed to help employees with their work, health, and wellbeing. This can range from counselling to financial wellbeing support. MetLife offers employees a virtual Wellbeing Hub that effectively engages employees through financial, mental and physical wellbeing be that through childcare support and confidential counselling or by supporting an employee through financial difficulty.