Stress can be a very serious condition leading to illness and disease, as well as high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and human error. Consequently, stress reduces the productivity of businesses and can be quite costly for both employers and society. Tackling stress in the workplace should therefore be of high priority and in order to deal with this issue effectively, the common attitude that stress is merely an excuse for time off work must be abolished.

Work-related stress is where the various work demands placed on an individual exceed that individual’s capacity and ability to cope; it must be differentiated from minor demands and pressures that are motivating to workers. Stress is often caused by insufficient attention to job design, work organisation and management, as well as lack of support, detrimental working relationships and organisational change. Stress was behind 400,000 out of 1,152,000 work-related illnesses in Great Britain recorded in 2010/11; it is clearly as major problem.

One of the reasons why stress is often perceived as an excuse for work absence is that it can be manifested in a number of different ways; sometimes it is only noticeable to the individual who is suffering. Stress can have a variety of symptoms from affecting emotions and concentration, to changing an individual’s blood pressure and weight.

Workers may be suffering with stress due to pressures outside of work or conflicting demands from work and home. Many issues from outside work can cause stress, such as family problems and personal or social demands. Workers are not obliged to inform their employers of their problems outside of work, but it is advisable that employers anticipate potential problems that their workers may face and offer support where appropriate. Where employers are sympathetic and flexible, workers will find it easier to deal with their problems.

Employers can help reduce work-related stress by implementing suitable health and safety checks and organisational stress policies in the workplace. By listening to staff complaints and concerns, making time to tackle stress properly and planning how to respond to stress at work, the impact of work-related stress will be reduced.

Where there is absenteeism or poor performance at work that genuinely cannot be justified, it is conduct that must be addressed. Employers may want to consider starting a fair and reasonable disciplinary procedure; this should be outlined in employee handbooks. Disciplinary procedures can be tricky and time-consuming, but are a way to deal with misconduct effectively.

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