Stress leave from work: spot the early signs of burnout before it's too late
The demands of the technology-driven modern workplace take its toll on you, over time — stress leave from work is meant to relieve that.
Being too overloaded for too long can create real long-lasting health complications. That impacts your ability to do your best work.
I’m not just talking about health issues either. Burnout can easily spiral into absenteeism, sharp drops in productivity, and even employee turnover if you don’t keep a bead on work-related stress.
If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. I oversee employee wellbeing at Charlie, and it’s my job to ensure we never get to that point.
It’s not always easy. Maintaining balance is a challenge. That’s why I made this guide for how to manage stress leave from work in a way that doesn’t negatively impact your business.
The reality of stress in the workplace
To manage workplace stress at your own organisation, it helps to understand what stress is and what it does to your mind.
What is stress at work?
Stress is your body’s natural response to challenging situations. A little stress isn’t a bad thing, it pushes you to give your all at work to overcome challenges and meet deadlines so that things get done.
However, when stress becomes chronic, it can become a public health concern and even negatively impact your business. It can create mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and even manifest physically in conditions such as heart disease.
The impact of stress in the workplace
Stress doesn’t only impact your mind and body. When your team members are too stressed for too long, sooner or later it’s going to affect your bottom line.
Chronic, recurring stress at your workplace can lead to a drop in productivity and even drive your best and brightest team members to leave.
Your team members can find it harder to make rational decisions or focus on their work, which impacts employee productivity.
Absenteeism and employee turnover are a concern here as well. Stressed-out employees are more likely to take sick leave, personal days, or even leave the team altogether. When they go, others are more likely to follow behind them.
This has a real, tangible ripple effect on the financial viability of your business. While exact figures vary, estimates show that work-related stress causes UK businesses about £6.2bn alone annually in sick days and dropped productivity (check out our guide on average sick days per year in the UK for more information).
Understanding UK law on stress leave
The UK has its own employment laws and regulations regarding stress leave from work.
Here’s what you’ll want to know about stress leave from work as an employer.
Stress leave legal obligations of employers
Stress leave from work in the UK is regulated by the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974. Under this act, you have a duty as an employer to ensure the wellbeing of your employees. That doesn’t just mean their physical health, but their mental health as well.
Failing to address mental-health-related stress at your organisation can result in legal repercussions for you.
Employee rights under UK law
Your employees and team members have their own rights when it comes to sick leave for stress as well.
UK law specifies that employees have the right to a safe and healthy work environment. That includes mental health support.
As an employer, you are obligated to make certain, reasonable accommodations and arrangements for work-related stress, such as access to counselling services.
Identifying early signs of stress
Spotting stress early on and fixing it before it escalates can help keep the really nasty negative effects to a manageable level.
Here are some symptoms you might look for within your own team.
- Fatigue: Constant feelings of tiredness that don’t go away even after rest
- Irritability: Short temper, and low tolerance levels to annoyance and provocation
- Poor performance: Declining quality of work and missed deadlines without an identifiable cause
Noticing these warning signs within your team and addressing them early can help prevent them from escalating into worse mental health issues that spread through your whole team.
The role of engagement surveys
Employee engagement surveys are an excellent way to gauge work-related stress at your organisation and do something about it.
At Charlie, we conduct regular employee engagement surveys using our HR software, to see how our team members are getting on. It helps to understand their workload and their wellbeing and gives them a chance to voice concerns and issues before they become bigger problems.
Discussing mental health on one-to-one meetings
Engagement surveys are usually anonymous: they can be helpful to gauge the stress levels of your team overall, but not to then be able to support them one by one.
You’ll have to use one-to-one meetings between managers and their direct reports to continually assess your team members’ emotional wellbeing, spot early signs of burnout and offer personalised solutions to avoid the situation getting worse.
At Charlie, all managers are trained to check on their team members’ mental health during one-to-one catch ups, at least once a month.
Our approach to preventing workplace stress
The thinking at Charlie is that the best way to deal with work-related stress and all the problems that come with it is to stop it before it happens. Prevention is the best cure.
I’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the strategies and initiatives that work at Charlie for dealing with stress leave from work.
- Personal days: Charlie offers employees four personal days per year for employees who just need a break. These are days when employees can just take a day for themselves when they’re feeling a bit off, no questions asked.
- Flexible working hours: Not everyone does their best work at a rigid 9-to-5 work schedule. Some people work better in the early morning before the sun rises. Others are night owls who work late into the evening. That’s why Charlie offers flexible working hours, so team members can do their best work when they’re most engaged.
- Mental health first aiders: Charlie has seven trained mental health first aiders on staff. They are the last line of defence against sick leave from work due to stress. They are trained to recognise the early rise of mental health issues and guide team members to the right support and resources.
This is what works at Charlie for stopping work-related stress leave before it happens.
Handling stress leave requests
Despite your best efforts, you will inevitably get requests for sick leave from work due to stress. Work is work, after all.
Receiving stress-related sick leave requests can be delicate and require careful handling. I’ve managed a fair few in my day. Here’s what I recommend you do if you find a request for sick leave for stress popping into your inbox.
Immediate steps to take
The first thing you should do is consult the employee’s medical documentation. That way, you’ll at least understand the seriousness of the problem and how long it’s been ongoing.
Then, you can arrange to meet with the employee for a confidential discussion. That will give you a chance to further assess their condition and make any reasonable accommodations and adjustments.
Taking these steps can help the employee get the support they need before they start mentally checking out at work and even start looking towards the door.
Managing stress leave types in Charlie
Managing stress leave requests doesn’t have to be cumbersome. Using Charlie’s HR software can make it easy and streamlined, and reduce the administrative burdens to a minimum.
- Custom leave types: You can use Charlie to create custom leave types that suit your company’s specific policies. That can include stress leave or mental health days.
- Easy request management: Your employees can request stress leave for work with a few clicks within the Charlie platform, in the same way they would request a holiday.
- Instant request notifications: You and any other managers will receive an instant notification when an employee requests work-related stress leave. That allows you to take immediate action
Keep the stress out of stress leave with Charlie
Work is stressful, and there’s only so much you can do about that. That said, taking a few preventative measures with your team member’s best interests in mind can help keep them to manageable levels and create a workplace culture of understanding and compassion.
Be proactive, be kind, and be thoughtful. Having that approach will make a world of difference as you manage your work-related stress leave requests.
Making use of the Charlie time off feature will help you oversee those requests and give your team members adequate support when they need it. Start a free trial now.
If you need more hands-on guidance, request HR advice to have I or another Charlie HR advisor assist you in making a sick leave policy that takes the stress away from stress leave requests.