Stress: We all have to live with it to some extent. For some, it’s being forced to decide between the Prada or the Gucci suit (why not both?). But when it’s work related, what should you do if an employee asks to take stress leave? One expert breaks it down.
Stress is ever present, which isn’t all bad—without it, we might find it difficult to motivate ourselves to get out of bed in the morning. On the other hand, if an employee comes to you asking to take stress leave, that’s a sign that it has all become just too much to deal with.
These days, stress is increasingly associated with the workplace, but there is obviously a big difference between a mentality of ‘I’m busy, but things are good!’ and ‘Everything is overwhelming; I’m stressed’.
The ‘wrong’ type of stress in the workplace is undeniably a serious problem. But should claims of stress always be taken at face value? Is the stress claimed by an employee really being caused by work, or are there other factors at play? Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace, but this does not extend to a duty to manage individuals’ personal affairs as well.
A crucial step that is often missed by people managers when considering stress leave is actually making genuine inquiries into what is causing the claimed stress. Inquiry or – in more serious cases – investigation might well reveal that the cause of stress is not work related. Determining this allows everybody to appropriately focus on and deal with the true cause.
For example, one of your employees approaches you and says they are stressed. However, you know this employee has a habit of saying they are stressed on a regular basis. When you offer them help by, say, reallocating some of their workload, they refuse and say that they will “soldier on.” On the face of it, your offer might be enough. What more should you do?
Keep an eye on the situation and observe the behaviour of an employee claiming stress. Is there anything unusual about what they have been doing of late? Has their work product deteriorated recently? If there are wellness programs operated by your business, offer them as a means to either reduce or explore ways to minimise the employee’s stress.
In our experience, when an employee claims stress leave, people managers should proactively explore the cause and possible solutions to reduce the stress to avoid possible legal ramifications. It is not a case of simply ticking the box and being seen to do something, but of authentically trying to assist.
If your employees are constantly saying “I’m stressed,” then look into their claims. Do not be a silent bystander to someone who might genuinely require assistance.
Get the facts about stress leave and other HR questions on AHRI:ASSIST.