The theme of the International Labour Organisation’s recent World Day for Health and Safety at Work was “Workplace Stress: A Collective Challenge”. It’s interesting to see that something that’s long been seen as a hidden problem is now at the top of the agenda of workplace concerns. And so it should be.

In recent years there’s been a growing focus on the impact stress can have on employees and the effect that has, in turn, on the productivity and performance both of the individual and the business.

Too much stress can affect people in many different ways. Some of the problems associated with stress in the workplace include; absenteeism or presenteeism (when an employee feels the need to work overly long hours due to insecurity or an excessive workload); reduced motivation or commitment to the organisation; high staff turnover and reduced efficiency and accuracy whilst at work. All these issues affect the productivity, competitiveness and the reputation of a business. None of which is good for either the employer or the employee.

Stress can also manifest itself in other physical illnesses, again leading to long term absence. Or it can lead to unhealthy behaviours to try to manage the stress, such as alcohol or substance abuse. Again none of these things are desirable from anyone’s perspective and ultimately undermine the overall performance of the business. The wellbeing of employees is reflected in the wellbeing of the organisation as a whole.

As an employer, it’s your obligation to ensure your workers’ health and safety in every aspect related to work. And that includes both their physical and mental health.

Sometimes, of course, the stress employees are suffering may not be caused by workplace issues. They may be having domestic or financial problems or other troubles unrelated to work. Even so, more often than not, such external problems will still find their way into the workplace and affect their wellbeing and performance.

So what strategy should you use to help your employees avoid coming under undue stress, or if they do, helping them find ways to cope and manage the stress?

One way is to introduce a specific, confidential programme to your workplace for employees to access if they need help or advice. Research shows that early, proactive intervention is the key. Providing support from the earliest moment has been shown to both help the individual manage stress more effectively and positively influence an earlier return to work than would otherwise have been the case if they are absent.

Called an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme), it’s one of the best and most cost effective ways of making sure that your employees feel that you are taking care of them and looking out for them. We offer one through our wholly-owned subsidiary Health Assured. Our own employees belong to our EAP and say they find it hugely beneficial, however big or small their problem may be.

So how does it work? The EAP allows employers of any size to provide employees with a confidential support service, which runs 24/7, 365 days of the year. It allows the employee to access an experienced health clinician with full qualifications and accreditation in counselling for advice and support throughout difficult times.

The EAP can help with a huge range of issues from debt and family matters to substance abuse, addictions and stress. Face-to-face counselling is included where appropriate and there is an online health portal for information and guidance. And absolute confidentiality for the employee is guaranteed.

National research shows that using an EAP can reduce absence by 34% on average and that 94.7% of employees return to work within 14 days following an intervention of this type. From our own research on our EAP, we’ve seen even better rates that that, with employees on average returning to work 12 days earlier. At a cost of just pennies per employee per month, that is obviously a tremendous return on investment.

According to the ILO, “Work-related stress is now generally acknowledged as a global issue affecting all countries, all professions and all workers both in developed and developing countries. In this complex context, the workplace is at the same time an important source of psychosocial risks and the ideal venue to address them in order to protect the health and well-being of workers.”

This isn’t a problem that is going to go away. As employers we have an obligation to help tackle it to protect the well-being of our employees and, in doing so, to enhance the performance and productivity of our businesses.

For more information or advice, please call the Health Assured team on 0808 278 0734.