How to prevent workplace stress
Employers have a duty of care to prevent workplace stress. So what can you do? Employee Relations Adviser Madeleine Pittorino explains.
The World Health Organisation defines workplace stress as the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures not matched to their knowledge and abilities, which challenges their ability to cope.
Workplace stress can harm your employees’ psychological and physical health. Injuries and illnesses that can arise from workplace stress can be physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioural. Examples include, but are not limited to;
- lack of concentration;
- over-sensitivity to criticism;
- irritability; and
What are your legal obligations?
Employers have a duty of care under the Work, Health and Safety Act 2020 (WA), which includes a primary duty to ensure the health and safety of the workplace and to eliminate or reduce hazards and risks as far as reasonably practicable.
Employers must take measures, as far as it is practicable, to provide information, instruction, training, supervision and safe workplaces to enable employees to perform their work without being exposed to hazards.
Exposure to lengthy periods of workplace stress can be costly for businesses and lead to increased absenteeism, low morale and higher staff turnover.
Additionally, working excessive hours to meet work demands may cause fatigue and increase the risk of accidents or injuries, which in turn could result in more workers’ compensation claims.
Bullying, discrimination, and harassment in the workplace can also contribute to workplace stress. Employers have a duty of care to, as far as is reasonably practicable, prevent bullying and harassment from occurring in the workplace.
Failing to appropriately address discrimination and harassment may also be a breach of anti-discrimination legislation as well as the General Protections provisions within the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act).
How can employers prevent workplace stress?
There are a number of steps employers should take to prevent workplace stress in the workplace. These include but are not limited to;
- performing risk assessments and hazard identification;
- implementing relevant Work, Health and Safety, and Bullying/Harassment policies;
- providing training and instruction on;
- reasonable work requirements;
- recognising warning signs of workplace stress;
- individual and organisational measures used to prevent workplace stress;
- bullying and harassment; and
- where to access support within and outside the workplace (e.g. posters of the company’s Employee Assistance Program or other external support organisations).
- having support mechanisms and reasonable accommodations in place; and
- reiterating the business commitment to addressing risk factors for workplace stress (e.g. encouraging employees to access their accrued annual leave and long service leave).
The implementation of prevention measures will ensure employers are eliminating or decreasing the risk to employee’s health and safety caused by workplace stress.
Under the FW Act, there are instances where requesting a flexible working arrangement is an entitlement for certain employees.
If an employee has this entitlement, employers must respond to the request in 21 days and can only refuse on reasonable business grounds.
Employers can still offer employees flexible working arrangements irrespective of it being an entitlement or not. Similarly, any employee can request a flexible working arrangement, however the way in which it is managed will be different as it is not governed by the FW Act.
Offering flexible working arrangements is crucial for employers to future-proof their workforce, and it is also an excellent tool for attracting and retaining talent.