Time off for stress

How to effectively manage time off work with stress

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Monday, Jan 29, 2024

Welcome to the dynamic world of modern work, where the hustle and bustle can sometimes give rise to stress-related challenges.

As an employer, understanding the significance of addressing work-related stress issues is not just a gesture of goodwill—it's a strategic move to ensure the well-being of your employees and the seamless operation of your business.

So, let's explore the importance of allowing your employees time off for stress, the factors that contribute to stress-related absence, mental health considerations, legal obligations, and best practices for managing stress in the workplace.

Understanding stress-related absence

Time off for stress, also known as sickness absence, is a critical consideration for employers committed to the well-being of their workforce.

When employees struggle with work-related stress, it can lead to mental health issues that require sickness absence. The effects of stress at work can extend far beyond their personal struggles—it can significantly impact their ability to perform their job effectively.

Recognising the work-related factors that cause stress, identifying the signs that indicate your employees might be struggling with stress, and acknowledging the need to support them is not only about legal obligations but it's also a vital step in creating a healthy and productive workforce.

The causes and signs of stress

Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. It's the body's way of responding to a demand or a threat. Feeling stressed is not always a bad thing. In small doses can be helpful to stay focused, productive, and alert.

However, if not managed properly, stress levels can reach a boiling point leading to physical and mental impairment, emotional exhaustion (burnout), anxiety, and depression. In severe cases, it can even increase the risk of physical illnesses and long-term sickness.

A person with their head in their hands due to being stressed in the workplace

What are the causes of work-related stress?

Work stress can manifest in various ways that impact both physical and mental health. Some common factors causing work-related stress are:

  • Difficult relationships with work colleagues
  • Concerns over job security
  • Poor working conditions
  • Unclear job role and responsibilities
  • Excessive or conflicting demands
  • Low levels of trust
  • Lack of support from managers and colleagues

It’s important to keep in mind that an employee may be stressed due to other factors such as bereavement or financial worries, which can intensify their symptoms.

Constant pressure, tight deadlines, long hours, and high expectations can lead to burnout, decreased productivity and even panic attacks. So, it’s best practice to acknowledge all the damaging effects of stress at work on your employees to create a supportive work environment that promotes well-being.

What are the signs your employee needs sickness absence?

As an employer, it’s critical to regularly check in on your employee's wellbeing. Knowing what/which signs of stress to watch for will help.

Some signs that your employee could be struggling with stress and may need sick leave are:

  • Fatigue or insomnia
  • Lack of motivation in general
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Increased emotional reactions
  • Being withdrawn
  • Aggressiveness
  • Increased sick leave and lateness

By recognising these signs early on, you can take practical steps to address the underlying causes of stress and support your employees' mental health.

A fellow co worker causing stress at work

Legal obligations and employee's rights

It's important to be aware of the legal framework surrounding time off for stress. Understanding statutory sick pay, sick leave entitlements, and the need for a fair process when an employee is signed off work due to stress is essential.

As an employer in the UK, you have legal responsibilities to support employees dealing with stress, mental ill health, or issues. Here are key aspects of UK employment laws related to time off for stress:

Sick leave

Employees are legally entitled to take time off if they are unable to work due to illness or work-related ill health, including taking time off work due to stress. While they are signed off work, eligible employees are also legally entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

Sick note, fit note or doctor's note

Employees are allowed to self-certify their absence due to stress for up to seven consecutive days before they need to visit a medical professional.

However, if the absence exceeds more than seven days, your employee must then provide you with a fit note (sick note) from a doctor or other medical professionals. The note may outline the employee's fitness for work and may suggest adjustments or accommodations.

Employer's duty of care

As an employer, it's your responsibility to ensure the health and safety of your employees, and this includes their mental health.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, you are legally obliged to take reasonable steps to identify and address any workplace stressors that may be affecting your employees.

Reasonable adjustments

If an employee has a disability, including a mental health condition, you are required by the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them. This might mean making changes to their working environment, job responsibilities, or working hours.

Discrimination and harassment

The Equality Act 2010 also protects employees from discrimination and harassment based on mental health conditions. You should actively work to prevent discrimination in your workplace and address any instances promptly, to avoid the possibility of a future tribunal claim.

Flexible working arrangements

Employees who have been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks have the right to request flexible working arrangements, which may help in managing stress. You must consider such requests seriously and can only refuse on certain specific grounds.

Time off for dependants

Employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with an unforeseen emergency involving a dependent, including situations related to stress or mental health.

It's key for you to create a supportive work environment, actively address stressors, and work collaboratively with your employees to find solutions. Seeking legal advice and guidance is recommended for specific situations, as employment law can be complex and subject to changes.

A person stressed having to deal with home and family life

How to manage stress in the workplace?

The proactive management of stress in the workplace is not just a luxury—it's a necessity. There are several steps you can take to create a positive and supportive environment, including:

Promoting a work-life balance

It's important to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal life. You should respect your employees' time outside of work hours and consider flexible scheduling options when possible.

Providing resources for stress management

Consider offering your employees resources to manage stress. This can include but is not limited to, stress management workshops, mindfulness sessions, and support services like counselling or employee assistance programs.

When employees have access to resources like these, they will be able to manage their stress, which in turn puts less stress on you.

Encouraging regular breaks

Taking breaks during a workday is important for physical and mental well-being. You should make sure that your employees have designated break areas where they can step away from their desks and relax.

You can even encourage physical activity by providing opportunities for short walks or stretching exercises. This will not only improve their productivity but also help in reducing stress levels.

A worker stressed due to working late and extra demands

Offering skill development opportunities

To build your employees' confidence and skills, it's important to invest in their professional development.

You can do this by offering access to training programs or workshops that allow them to learn new skills and enhance their knowledge. By supporting their career growth and advancement, you can foster a sense of accomplishment and motivation in your employees.

This not only benefits them but also helps your business thrive with highly skilled and engaged workers.

These measures will not only support the well-being of your employees but also contribute to increased job satisfaction and overall productivity. However, it's important to remember that every job role, employee, and situation is different, so what might work for one might not work for another.

How to support employees returning to work

When an employee returns to work after a period of stress-related absence, it's essential to provide them with a supportive environment and recognise that work-related stress can be a recurring issue for some individuals.

You should create an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their stress levels and seeking support.

By addressing the root cause of work stress, such as heavy workloads or inadequate resources, you can work towards sustainable solutions that benefit both your employees and your business. This can involve:

Open communication and welcoming them back

You need to initiate an open and empathetic conversation with your employees upon their return from stress leave. Express understanding and provide reassurance about their role and make sure to clearly communicate any changes or updates within your business.

Offering flexible reintegration plans

You should create a flexible return-to-work plan for your employees that takes into consideration their individual needs. It's recommended to gradually reintroduce responsibilities to avoid overwhelming the employee.

Adjustments should be made based on their comfort level and progress, to ensure a successful transition back to work with the necessary support.

Adjusting workload management

As you monitor and manage your employee's return and workload, it's advisable to make sure it aligns with their capacity.

Consider reducing workload if feasible and distributing tasks evenly while making temporary adjustments as needed.

Taking these steps can help ease the transition back into the normal pressures of the workplace and reduce the likelihood of a recurrence of stress-related issues.

Remember that a smooth transition back to work is essential for your employee's wellbeing and long-term productivity. By fostering a supportive and understanding environment, you can contribute significantly to an employee's successful return after sickness absence.

A person visible stressed whilst sitting in the office

How BrightHR can help you manage time off for stress

Prioritising the well-being of employees and effectively managing time off for stress is not just a legal obligation—it's an integral part of creating a positive and thriving work environment.

By understanding work-related stress factors, statutory obligations, and taking proactive steps to support employees, you can contribute to a workplace that is not only legally compliant but also fosters a culture of well-being and productivity.

Remember, managing stress is an ongoing journey that requires commitment, empathy, and a collaborative effort between yourself and your employees.

And with the right support for your business like BrightHR, you can easily navigate the balancing act of work-related stress with a well-supported workforce that’s not just an asset— but the heartbeat of sustained success in the modern workplace.

With BrightHR you get access to:

But that’s just a small fraction of all the innovative features that can help you create a positive and supportive work environment. Discover more by booking a free demo today or call 0800 470 2432 to speak with one of our friendly advisors.


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