Stress outside of work – is it your problem?

Stress outside of work - what can managers do to help

Stress that stems from out-of-work situations can be a bit of a minefield to master (especially when brought into the workplace), and there isn’t really a clear-cut answer of whether it’s your problem or not – which probably isn’t what you wanted to hear!

Whilst stress may be driven by external factors, it can sometimes have an impact on work life too.

It’s important to remember that even when problems do get brought into the workplace, there may be legal protections in place that aren’t immediately obvious, that impact how you handle the situation – we’ll delve into this a little later on.

The first thing to consider is how do you identify when an employee is suffering from stress? Have they informed you or a colleague, or have you noticed a change in their behaviour? If you haven’t been made aware by the employee, it’s important to consider whether it’s appropriate to raise it with them.

You cannot force an employee to tell you if they’re suffering with external stress issues, however, making all employees aware that your door is always open and that you will support them as best you can if they are suffering with any personal issues is the best way to deal with this.

Give a little extra

If you’ve been made aware by the employee that they’re suffering with stress, even if it is their personal life that is causing stress, we still recommend you support your employees. Lack of empathy will say a lot about your business’ culture and the way its employees are treated, which more than likely will be noticed by colleagues.

The knock-on effect? It could reduce morale, productivity and the longevity of service within your business. It can also affect attendance levels.

Reap the benefits

As the good old saying goes, a little goes a long way. Generally speaking, voluntarily helping someone out when they’re in need will benefit you several times over in the long run.

Why? Because their appreciation of you helping them during a difficult time can result in an uplift of discretionary output, they’ll be more likely to stay with and recommend you, and you’ll benefit from improved attendance and productivity.

How you can help

Supporting employees through a difficult time in their life can be as simple as:

  • Offering a point of contact/regular catch up meetings
  • Offering temporary flexible working arrangements where possible
  • Providing access to advice lines or counselling services – either funded by the business or free public services
  • Offering to reduce workloads or delegating responsibilities if needed by the employee
  • Allowing time off or annual leave for employees to attend to their personal circumstances.

The legalities

As we touched on earlier, sometimes employees will have legal protections for out-of-work stress. A couple of examples include:

Disability: This may be a condition the employee has or one of their relatives who they are a carer for. Stress and other mental health conditions can potentially mean that an employee is protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (Disability Discrimination Act 1995 if in Northern Ireland).

If an employee has to care for a disabled relative and you dismiss them because of poor attendance or performance resulting from this, you could be at risk of an associative discrimination claim.

Addiction: Whilst addiction to drugs and alcohol is not specifically covered by the Equality Act 2010, conditions relating to the addiction can be.  Certainly, you would be expected to offer a reasonable level of support before taking disciplinary action against an employee.

Poorly children: If an employee is regularly late or absent at short notice because their children are poorly and they’re the main carer, if you dismiss them as a result, it could be seen as indirect sex discrimination.

Furthermore, working parents have additional rights, like a right to emergency dependants leave, as long as it’s reasonable time off, right to unpaid parental leave and a right to request flexible working (dependant on length of service), so disadvantaging them because of their parental responsibilities could land you in hot water and at risk of claims.

Getting to grips with it

Everyone deals with stress in their own way, so it’s important to assess how it can impact on the individual and team’s dynamic.

To understand the issue and deal with it sensitively, ask employees who’re suffering from stress questions like:

  • What’s causing the stress?
  • What are you doing to try and deal with it?
  • How long do you expect it to continue for?
  • What impact do you think it’ll have on your day-to-day job?
  • What can we do to assist?

Don’t let it stress you out

Our industry-leading HR & Employment Law experts are here to take the load off you. With everything from handling difficult conversations to dealing with discrimination claims, they’ve got your back.

Simply give us a call on 0345 844 1111 or drop us a line on to see how we can help.

Get more information

Pop in your details and we'll call you straight back

We'll get back to you as soon as we can.