According to a recent report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 822,000 workers in the UK were affected by new or long-standing work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2020/21, accounting for half of all work-related illnesses. In addition, HSE estimates that these three factors are responsible for over 15.4 million lost working days at a conservative estimate of £5.2 billion at a cost to industry, individuals and government.
Shocking workplace health statistics
Those are pretty shocking numbers when you sit and think about it – in fact, when one in two work-related illnesses is caused by stress or poor mental health, it suggests there’s an opportunity for employers to drastically reduce absentee rates if they can find ways to better manage stress at work and take more action to support their employees.
Knowing what’s bothering your employees gives you a huge head start in helping them solve their problem
While it sounds simple, in practice, managing work-related stress is much more difficult. In fact, for business leaders and HR leaders, who are under more pressure than ever to find ways to maintain and improve the well-being of their employees, it can often be overwhelming just knowing where to start. That’s why I wanted to spend some time sharing some of my own experiences and outlining the steps we’ve taken at Britvic to better support our people.
1. Lead by example
Providing wellness sessions, mental health resources, and activities like yoga and social outings is one thing, but getting people to participate is the real challenge. If it’s one you’re facing, why not lead by example and visit/use their resources yourself?
I try to be as open as possible about personally using the wellbeing and development resources that are available to us—and I encourage my colleagues on the leadership team to do the same—because I firmly believe that others will do it if we set a strong example follow.
The more openly you communicate with your colleagues about the issues that matter, the better your chances of building authentic, trusting relationships that lead to their coming to you with concerns. Knowing what’s bothering your employees gives you a huge head start in helping them overcome their problems.
2. Establish clear instructions
Work-related stress is often caused by poor management of workload and expectations. It is important that leaders set clear goals and that feedback is clear and constructive. I think it’s okay to challenge people and set high performance standards, but it’s also important for people to know that the support is there when they need it. This requires leaders to be present and really listen to their employees and lean in to help during stressful or turbulent times.
Taking proactive steps to prevent problems like burnout is a much better course of action than waiting to respond to poor mental health
Creating transparency around goals, strategic goals, and business changes is also important to ensure people understand the direction of the journey and to avoid feelings of uncertainty and ambiguity. There are few things worse than a workplace that leaves people in the dark. So be the opposite and arm your co-workers with information that will help them feel trustworthy, included and ultimately confident in their work.
All of this is rooted in strong and effective communication, which is why it is important that executives and HR professionals are given opportunities to develop their communication and leadership skills – especially knowing that they will inevitably encounter many sticky situations.
3. Take proactive steps
It’s also important to observe your employees at work and notice changes in behavior and temperament to ensure signs of stress are caught early.
Big problems like burnout have some fairly obvious signs—lowering enthusiasm, reduced energy, and a lack of motivation, to name a few—but only when you know you need to be paying attention. The sooner these issues can be identified and addressed the better, which is why it’s important for business leaders and HR professionals to know what to look out for.
Taking proactive action to prevent problems like burnout is a much better course of action than waiting to react to poor mental health—but inevitably, both proactivity and reactivity are always needed. Encouraging open discussion and regularly “checking in” with people to simply ask how they are doing are small steps that can make a big difference and signal a genuine interest in well-being.
4. Creating security through reactive support
Unfortunately, while companies can do many things to reduce stress in the workplace, there will always be a serious need for wellness initiatives that respond to mental health issues and concerns.
To lift the curtain, as Britvic does, we all have access to a 24/7 staff helpline in the UK and Ireland and have almost 40 fully trained mental health first responders on site (of which I am one – leading example, as I said). We see it as a much-needed safety net for our employees, and in my opinion it’s one of the best actions a company can take.
The best time for true workplace wellbeing in your organization was ten years ago, the second best time is now
5. There is no time like the present
To reinterpret an old adage, the best time to bring true workplace wellness to your organization was ten years ago (or way before that!), the second best time is now. Unfortunately, workplace stress is inevitable, but there are many steps employers can take to reduce its effects and create a more supportive, comfortable, and productive environment for their employees.