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Stress Leave.

Stress Leave.

The effects of work-related stress are becoming more apparent in the workplace and community. Stress in the workplace can pose long-term consequences for businesses and impact an employee’s mental state of mind, productivity and overall job satisfaction.

While stress leave is not defined in New Zealand legislation, employers have health and safety obligations to provide a safe work environment for all employees. This includes monitoring, identifying and managing workplace stress.

What is Stress Leave?

Stress leave is an option given to employees who need time-off to recover from work-related stress. In New Zealand, there is no legal entitlement for stress leave from work, but there are other ways for employees to take paid or unpaid leave.

If an employee becomes ill due to stress, they can take sick leave under the normal conditions of sick leave. An employee who needs additional time off beyond their sick leave entitlement can negotiate with their employer regarding the length of leave and whether the leave is paid or unpaid.

It is up to the employer to decide if the employee needs additional leave to be healthy and productive in the workplace. However, an employee can dispute their decision if they feel the amount of time-off has not been adequate.

What Causes Stress in the Workplace?

There are a number of reasons why employees may be stressed in the workplace. Some of the most common reasons are:

  • Unreasonable workload
  • Bullying in the workplace
  • Restructuring of the workplace
  • Change of position, duty or responsibilities
  • Dangerous work environment with a lack of health and safety precautions
  • Toxic work environment

Common Signs of Stress.

Often, the signs of stress are not made clear to everyone in the workplace. It is common for employees to hide the symptoms of stress, out of fear of being punished or judged by others.

However, there are common behaviour patterns for employers to look out for:

  • Anxiety
  • Reduced productivity
  • Illness and disease
  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Low morale
  • Lack of engagement

A combination of one or more of these symptoms is a good indicator that a person is stressed. Of course, due to the complex nature of mental and physical stress; it is important to avoid jumping to conclusions.

How to Manage Stress in the Workplace.

Employers have an obligation to provide a safe and fair work environment for all employees.

To comply with their duty of care, employers must monitor employee performance, workload, and the kind of tasks they are performing. If an employer discovers signs of stress or suspects an employee is stressed, these concerns should be discussed so a solution can be found manage the problem.

Here are some basic control measures to reduce the risk of workplace stress:

  • Set reasonable amounts of work to be completed within an employee’s agreed work hours
  • Reduce the number of work hours each week
  • Redefine an employee’s role or responsibilities to better match their skillset
  • Set out policies and procedures to resolve bullying and other unacceptable behaviour
  • Encourage an open discussion to share ideas and perspectives on how to reduce stress
  • Give employees the option to raise concerns in the workplace – without fear of retribution
  • Request comments and feedback from employees before implementing major changes into the workplace

Whether or not the stress is caused by the workplace, employers can advise employees to visit a doctor or employee assistance program to identify the source of the problem. Employers are not legally required to do this, but it is part of their responsibility to reduce threats to health and safety in the workplace.

Stress Leave Policy.

The most effective way to manage stress in the workplace is to create a stress management policy.

This policy should give employees an avenue to discuss their issues or grievances in private without fear of judgement or retribution from colleagues and the organisation itself. The policy should also provide a reasonable course of action to manage work-related stress and assist employees in any way possible for them to recover and get back to work.

If necessary, it may be helpful to seek advice from a health professional. This will aid in devising a stress management plan that is fair and considerate to the needs of each individual.

Are Employers Responsible for Stress Outside of Work?

An employer is not responsible for stress caused by issues outside the workplace, such as problems with personal relationships and finances.

However, an employer is required to take reasonable steps to ensure employees can cope with issues outside of work. They may offer to make adjustments in the workplace, provide sick leave or additional stress leave from work.

For advice on how to incorporate stress leave policies and procedures into the workplace, contact Employsure on 0800 675 700.

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Employsure is New Zealand's leading workplace relations specialist, working directly alongside employers to set the solid foundations for...
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