Stress, and in particular, the serious effect that stress has on the human body, is a subject we now know a great deal about. Articles designed to highlight the prevalence of stress and the steps that can be taken to deal with it appear frequently in the media, while the UK Government regularly publishes figures for absenteeism and ill health in the workplace in which stress is cited as a significant factor. As many as one in four people now have a mental health difficulty where they cite stress, anxiety and depression as particular symptoms resulting in huge pressure on the medical profession both to finance treatments and prescribe a wide range of medications designed to alleviate the effects of stress on individuals.

The majority of companies have formulated policies for dealing with stress as it appears in the workplace: both triggering and supporting the view that companies are either to blame or are directly responsible for fixing stress – a view which is often misplaced. While it is still an important step for businesses to consider what they can do to support their employees and what they should do for greatest effectiveness, the prerogative lies with the individual and there is only so much a company should or can do in reality.

Three pro-active steps companies can consider:

1. Start by helping individuals Understand Stress Better by making a wealth of simple materials available at very little cost in relation to the benefit. For example, books can be purchased and loaned out on a library basis within the business or made available as mp3 downloads for listening to in the car and/or at home. Questionnaires designed to help people understand the various symptoms of stress, together with advice on practical ways to deal with the causes of stress, would be ideal. These can be made readily accessible by loading them on to the company website or through creating an internal one for specific use by employees. Most importantly, as with any illness, people need to understand what is happening to them and they can do to help themselves. Greater knowledge and better understanding are both vital elements toward helping people understand what is happening to them and what they can do to alleviate the symptoms of stress.

2. Help Managers Recognise the Signs and Symptoms to look for. The ideal method of achieving this is through a structured half day workshop designed to give managers the tools to understand stress and offer constructive advice and practical support to their reporting staff. Leaving people who may be experiencing stress and treating it ‘like the elephant in the room’ undoubtedly has a knock on effect for the individual, the team who has to carry them, and the bottom line of the business when employees become unable to function and are signed off sick for long periods. It is well proven that supporting managers to enable them to act quickly and with confidence where an unhappy, distressed or anxious person is concerned, has a substantial benefit, both to the individual and the business of which they are a vital part.

3. Formulate a detailed Policy on Stress.  A nominated board level manager should sit down with line managers and discuss what actions the business is both prepared and able to take should an individual feel they are unreasonably stressed whilst at work and what steps can be taken to empower the individual to help themselves. A sample policy that illustrates exactly how this can work in practice is available from www.suefirthltd.com and could be a useful guide that is then modified for the needs of the company. It describes how stress is normal but making unreasonable demands of individuals is not, and helps companies understand their legal obligations as well as giving practical ideas on how to help someone who admits they are suffering from stress.

Recommended books to explain the causes, symptoms and effects of stress, a questionnaire to determine normal versus worrisome behaviour and MP3 downloads which help individuals understand why they are stressed and what they can do about it, are all available from www.suefirthltd.com.

Stress affects the well-being of people, leaving them feeling isolated and worsening the effects of their illness. Companies need practical help on how to help their employees who suffer from stress. I specialise in helping individuals and the companies they work for come together to understand and treat the causes of stress and reduce the devastating effect it can have on personal lives and professional performance.