Keep calm and carry on: workplace stress

It just so happens that it is not only North American Occupational Health and Safety Week but also Mental Health Week 2015. As such, there is never a better time to bring up the topic of stress in the workplace.

Business owner or employee, you’ve probably been touched in one way or another by workplace stress. In fact, stress is the leading cause of workplace disability in Canada, costing the overall economy over $4.5 billion in lost productivity due to workplace absences.

As an employer, you have certain responsibilities to your workers as it relates to stress and mental health. Failing to reasonably accommodate an employee who is struggling with stress can lead to productivity, legal and other problems.

Remember: stress is considered an illness and should be approached just as you would any other disability.

Generally, there is an expectation that an employer will be proactive and vigilant about identifying stress. If you have an employee displaying signs of stress, investigate the situation.

What does workplace stress look like?

Stress can present in many different ways. Some typical signs include:

  • Changes in eating habits (weight gain or loss)
  • Sleep disruption
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs or tobacco
  • Unusual impatience or irritation
  • Poor performance, including distraction and preoccupation
  • Withdrawal from social contact
  • Reports of headaches, indigestion, fatigue, insomnia or frequent non-specific issues
  • Frequent absences
  • Increased conflict between employees
  • Frequent talk about “stress” and “pressure”

As a business owner, how can you accommodate stress?

  • Reassignment/modified duties
  • Re-bundling of tasks to provide meaningful work
  • Special equipment or revised expectations
  • Changes to workplace process or procedure
  • Flexible hours
  • Sick leave
  • EAP (Employment Assistance Program)

Stress test

To get a sense of how healthy your workplace is, take a moment and run through this assessment tool provided by Healthy Families BC. It only takes five minutes and offers you a score based on your responses. It’s a useful reference point to gauge how your business manages workplace mental health.

CFIB My StartUp has a wealth of information on workplace stress, including tips for helping your employees deal with stress, along with insight into how your business can promote a healthy workplace.

Additional resources on mental health in the workplace