Modern life can be challenging and, at times, stressful. Young people are struggling to get on the property ladder while the so-called 'sandwich generation' has to juggle supporting both children and elderly relatives. It's no surprise that the difficulties of balancing workplace demands and personal lives is becoming an increasing problem.
Changing demographics and demanding jobs are contributing to a vicious cycle, which starts with a gradual build-up of stress and sleepless nights, leading to underperformance at work, absence, and ultimately, long-term sick leave.
A recent report titled 'Breaking the Cycle' highlights the potent combination of both professional and personal stress, revealing that one in four employees have taken time off work due to stress in the last year - a figure being described as an employee 'stress time bomb'.
The main problem is that triggers initiating this downward spiral are often hidden, neither talked about nor confronted. Worryingly, the report found that more than half of employees admit feeling unable to approach their employer about a stress-related issue; therefore the cycle continues unbroken, and if left un-addressed can lead to significant mental health problems.
So if you do have a problem, or you're worried about stress, how do you approach your employer? Here are my top five tips for you to consider.
Break the silence
Your voice matters and communication is the best building block you can use to eradicate the stigma attached to mental health in the workplace. 'Breaking the cycle' will rely on both employees and employers breaking the silence, and opening the lines of communication.
How and when to do it
Think about creating an environment where you feel comfortable. You might prefer to organise a meeting to ensure you have your manager's undivided attention in a private setting. Perhaps an early morning meeting, before the office gets busy and your boss or line manager gets sidetracked with other matters. Let them know you wish to speak about a significant issue, so they can ensure they have uninterrupted time with you.
How much and what kind of information you will share
Have a clear plan and write down the points you wish to discuss as this can help order your thoughts and ensure nothing is missed. How much you'd like say is entirely down to you but if you want your employer to help, try be as honest and open as possible. Most employers want to help but they can only get involved if you let them, so the kind of information you tell them is key.
If you don't ask you don't get
Intervention could be as simple as receiving additional support from your line manager, but you won't always know what help is available unless you ask.
Who should you speak to?
Think carefully about who you trust in your organisation and who is best placed to help you. This could be your line manager, HR representative or another colleague.
Agree a plan of any changes with your manager, and take the necessary time to discuss progress and review how things have improved. Try to take small manageable steps rather than making sweeping changes in one go. Most importantly, commit to getting better, with your employer's support.And remember:
- It's in both your interests. Good people are hard to find and what employers don't need is a previously hard working and conscientious employee sliding into low productivity and potentially long-term sick leave.
- One in three people have experienced mental health problems at work, so you are not alone and there is every chance that your employer has dealt with similar situations before.
- You have rights. Every organisation has legal duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments and not discriminate in recruiting, retaining or promoting staff.