Mental health related absence, including those caused by stress, anxiety and depression, is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence from work in the UK. Following the events of 2020, 37 per cent of respondents to the CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing at Work survey said that stress-related absences had increased in the past year. In total, mental health concerns account for 17.9 million lost working days per year.

The anxiety created by the uncertainty and loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is not something employers can have been expected to plan for, but they can help employees to process and cope with stress and anxiety. After all, it’s in everyone’s interests to create a stress-free working environment.

Understand what is causing stress

Sometimes, the causes of our stresses can be resolved. Common work-related problems which lead to stress, for example, include employees working over capacity or using equipment that doesn’t work properly. These are all concerns which employers can address, alleviating the stress employees are placed under.

However, it can often be more complicated, particularly at the moment when the general business environment is causing so much uncertainty. Still, businesses should take steps to understand how employees are feeling, and assist them to access supportive resources when it would be otherwise inappropriate for them to help.

Talking through our worries can help us to rationalise and process anxiety, which can reduce stress. It won’t always be a complete solution – and employers should have a plan in place for further support – but it is an important first step.

Encourage mindfulness in the workplace

Practicing mindfulness is an important step in minimising workplace stress and can help build stronger trusted relationships through the open and honest culture it promotes. Mindfulness can be encouraged in the workplaces through internal comms, wellbeing workshops, mentoring and digitals tools or apps.

Mindfulness allows your team to further develop interpersonal skills, which are extremely effective in boosting morale and increasing workplace productivity. It also helps create a clear vision towards achieving objectives and meeting deadlines.

By encouraging your employees to think about and monitor their own wellbeing, you are able to identify and solve issues early-on, before they begin to affect the employee more seriously.

Recognise all contributions

Letting individuals know that they’re doing a good job helps to increase employee engagement, and makes staff feel more settled at work. This is especially important in the current climate.

Make sure that all of your employees feel appreciated, even those who may sometimes operate out of the spotlight. If you’re not able to do performance reviews this year, make sure you have something else in place to let employees know their doing a good job, and their efforts have been noticed.

Add value to your breaks

It’s so important for employees to take proper breaks throughout the working day, particularly if they are operating in high-stress environments. If you are managing a remote workforce, try to encourage employees to take structured breaks and keep up habits they’d usually have in the office, such as a mid-morning cuppa.

Talk to your employees about their breaks and recommend to them that they take the full time allowed to them. You can also encourage them to get out and get some fresh air during this time, which will allow for further benefits to their physical and mental wellbeing.

Change up your meetings

Your usual meetings are probably taking place virtually now, but this can lead to a new kind of stress – ‘Zoom fatigue’. Make sure your meetings are fit for the new environment by keeping them short and on subject, so that your employees can prepare properly and use the time wisely.

Walking meetings are also a brilliant way to encourage mindfulness, particularly as the dark draws in earlier and we all need a little bit of extra encouragement to get out of the house! Remember that not all meetings need to be video-based, and take the opportunity to go for a stroll when you can.

While this is undoubtedly a stressful time for everyone, leaders can help to reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing among their employees by creating positive working environments.