Putting Measures in Place to Combat Stress and Panic Attacks at Work

20th June 2016

Man in office Shutterstock 289448903Too many people suffering from stress in the workplace still keep quiet about their problems until they reach breaking point. In some cases, the result can be a panic attack, which may make them feel as if they are having a heart attack. A growing number of organisations are now introducing policies to combat stress in the workplace and try to prevent these conditions arising in the first place. However, effective systems also need to be in place to help those staff who do become ill.

Choosing effective absence management software, such as IRIS FMP’s HR packages, can help HR teams to manage staff with stress-related illnesses sensitively. Having the right software makes it easier to keep in touch with employees while they are off work, as well as giving them the right support while they recover and when they return to the workplace.

The Toll Taken by Stress in the Workplace

It was estimated in one recent study that 30 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to work-related mental health conditions. Overall, our economy is thought to be losing well over £2 billion annually as a result. Internationally, these conditions are also causing growing concern, and professors at Harvard have warned that by 2020 depression may be second only to heart disease as a cause of disability.

Employees within the public service industries, such as teaching and healthcare, have especially high levels of stress, while law, recruitment, banking and IT helpdesks are among other sectors identified in surveys as being especially stressful.

Of course, life changes beyond the workplace, such as a relationship break-up or bereavement, are often major causes of mental strain. However, working patterns do often contribute to people becoming ill with stress. Factors which can lead to this may include long periods of overwork, having to cover for absent colleagues, and being under threat of redundancy or reorganisations which bring uncertainty and changes to established ways of working. Stress can also be caused by a combination of factors, with the demands of a job sometimes becoming too much when combined with personal problems.

As well as depression, staff under stress may suffer from other conditions such as anxiety and panic disorders. A panic attack can sometimes lead to a visit to hospital, as the frightening symptoms can be similar to those of a heart attack. The official figures for people with these illnesses are probably just the tip of the iceberg. It- is believed there are many employees who are too embarrassed or scared to seek help and just go on trying to cope, sometimes with the result that they become burnt out or collapse.

How Can HR Departments Help Stressed Staff?

In order to cope with every aspect of stress, from initial warning signs to serious mental health problems, HR teams need to have a complete holistic strategy in place. This involves communicating clearly with staff about who they should speak to and where they can go for advice if they are feeling worried and pressurised.

Offering counselling services with trained professionals can be helpful, as can referrals to occupational health services. Occupational health advisers can work out a programme to help the individual. For instance, some people may be advised to undergo a series of cognitive behavioural therapy or counselling sessions. Individuals may be reluctant to get help at the start but are likely to find it really helpful in getting them back to work. Sometimes it is possible to have treatments without having to be signed off sick, although this will depend on how unwell the employee concerned is.

Some companies have their own occupational health services, while others call on the Government’s Fit for Work service. This provides free occupational health assessments for employees who have been off sick for 4 weeks or longer, provided they agree to be referred. The scheme can also be used alongside organisations’ own occupational health support. Case managers with different specialisms to advise staff and, where appropriate, agree a Return to Work plan to help them back into the workplace.

The right HR and payroll solutions can also help to ease a return to work and make it easier for HR teams to manage sickness absence. IRIS FMP’s Teamspirit software includes absence management software with functionality such as recording return to work interviews.

IRIS FMP Amity, our cloud-based HR software, is also very useful for staff who are spending time out of the workplace while on sick leave. Complete device-independence  enables employees to manage their personal information and also makes it easier to maintain communication with people in the office.

For more details on coping with staff illness, download our free eBook on Managing Absence and Attendance. You can also download information about our Teamspirit and Amity software packages.