So, it’s been a couple of months now. We have had our freedoms reinstated and for the most part, life is back to what it was like pre-pandemic. We acknowledge there is still some discrepancies but we are navigating our way through it. In saying that we are still seeing some hesitation or reluctance from some employees to engage in the manner we want them to. We’ve also seen some apprehension around wanting to return to the office and adapt yet again to a new way of working. For some people this has been easier than for others.
For those who are perhaps struggling, there has been an indirect correlation in the rise of stress leave. We don’t want to discredit those individuals who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, we know that there has been a real shift in this since the country opened back up.
From an Employer perspective what exactly is stress leave? And what do they need to do to manage this?
Like any “confession” an Employer needs to acknowledge the situation. Stress leave is not a legally authorised type of leave. It does nevertheless fall into a legitimate reason that an employee could use personal leave under the National Employment Standards. In the circumstances, if an employee has run out of sick/personal leave, they can use annual or long service leave instead.
If an Employee is absent from the workplace to manage their stress under one of these types of leave, they do not have to tell you their reason for taking it. In saying that, if personal leave is being used, the Employer may be within their rights to ask for a medical certificate, especially if more than one day was taken off. Once it has been communicated that an Employee is feeling stressed, an Employer should encourage honesty and remain free from bias around the causes of the stress. We would recommend that the Employer seek to understand the Employee’s perspective, be curious about their experiences and open to how they can help.
Help might come in many forms. It might be suggesting that the leave be taken, a reallocation of work, or identifying and removing triggers. It might be that the issue is within the Employee’s personal life and as such, give them the freedom to deal with those issues. Whatever the help looks like, it is important to remember that transparency will win. It’s also useful to communicate with the Employee around how they wish to communicate their potential absence with the wider team and if they have taken a form of leave, do they want to be contacted during this time? It might be that you offer an EAP service for them to use and they can be the conduit between parties.
The next step for the Employer is to address/establish the reality of the stress cause. Assessing the situation and understanding the root cause is paramount, as this will enable change if necessary. It’s important from the Employee’s perspective that they can see the Employer has addressed their concern and it might enable them to return to work sooner. The opposite of that is if the Employee has time away from the workplace, they might identify that their stress isn’t work-related and some parts of their personal life are impacting on their ability to perform.
Nonetheless, some of the causes of workplace stress relate to bullying and harassment, poor workplace culture, ineffective or unfair management and badly designed organisational structures. These areas are from our perspective, things that can be addressed in a timely manner through a variety of mechanisms both on an individual and business-based level.
Addressing the situation from both perspectives has benefits to both parties. Once the trigger has been identified, a strategy to address and remove the trigger can be formulated. It might mean that some form of training needs to be provided or that greater transparency is needed around workload and scheduling. It might mean that additional resources are needed to manage the workload. Whatever it is, the changes that can be made can influence the ability to prevent further issues from occurring. This is the biggest take home.
Employees need a safe work environment – physically and mentally. It’s up to you as an Employer to provide this. If an Employee feels threatened, there is a chance this has been compromised. Whether it is a perceived or real threat, that’s where having expert advice comes in to it. Often the Employer can be too involved in the situation and needs a fresh set of eyes and that’s where we can help!
Let us be your eyes and ears – your people are our people.