Stress Leave – how to handle it for your staff

September 2, 2021

Stress – it’s a killer – and none of us is immune to it. And few times have been more stressful than the last year or so. Even in normal times, we lose 17.9 million working days to work-related stress, depression and anxiety, which equates to 55 per cent of all working days lost to work-related ill health.

Snapping close at the heels of stress is burnout – a state of mental and physical exhaustion that leaves people feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to cope with their daily life. Burnout can affect anyone subject to long-term stress, and it is certainly something to avoid. Unfortunately, the consequences of burnout are profound and difficult to recover from.

So how should you cope with stress and avoid burnout? Experts advise the following:

· Exercise

· A balanced diet

· Good sleeping habits

· Reach out for help from friends and family

However, most of us need a time out, a respite from workplace pressures, with time to recover and recharge our batteries. In other words, we need a period of stress leave, time off to deal with our stress-related issues.

What is stress leave?

In the UK, stress leave is covered by the same rules as other forms of sick leave. We don’t differentiate; it is recorded as time off due to ill health. If you are using a leave planner, then you will record the time off as sick leave. The situation is slightly different in the United States, where employees can request up to 12 weeks of unpaid stress leave without endangering their jobs.

Current UK rules allow employees to take up to seven days of sick leave by self-certifying as ill. But it isn’t as simple as that. While employers and colleagues are more sensitive to mental health problems than they used to be, there remains a stigma about taking time off for stress. Consequently, rather than admitting to suffering from stress, many people will use up some of their annual leave. Thus, their days off will be recorded as leave in the staff holiday planner. Note that these seven days include days when you don’t usually work, for instance, weekends. They are just seven consecutive days.

Of course, the problem with this is that seven days off is unlikely to provide an answer. While a brief respite may help in the short term, stress symptoms tend to return quickly. And you can’t keep repeating the pattern. You hardly need a staff annual leave calculator to realise that you would soon use up your annual leave.

Employees who need more than seven days of stress leave must have what we used to call a doctor’s note. Nowadays, we call it a “Statement of Fitness for Work”. The note must be signed by a GP or hospital doctor. Before producing one, your doctor should assess your condition and decide whether or not you are fit for work. In addition, doctors sometimes suggest advisory measures your employer might take to alleviate their patient’s condition. If your employer cannot accept these measures, you are likely to be considered as remaining unfit for work.

Stress leave pay

Your terms of employment will determine how much stress leave pay you will receive. Some employers will pay full salary for an extended period, which they may reduce to half salary after that. However, this doesn’t apply to all employees. Legally, employers are obliged to pay standard sickness pay of just £96.35 per week.

Coping with work-related stress

Coping with work-related stress can feel like being between a rock and a hard place. However, as holidays provide a chance to recharge our batteries, it is important to plan them and ensure you take them. Your staff leave planner can be a vital tool for managing stress. Yet often, there are conflicts. We worry about taking time off and worry even more about admitting to feeling incapacitated by stress.

Often workplaces generate a culture of presenteeism, in other words turning up for work when you should be taking time off. Presenteeism includes foregoing holidays and can be a fast route to burnout. Often there is a positive feedback loop between presenteeism and stress, with each of them amplifying the other.

Final thoughts

We have all experienced work-related stress. It can be a good thing, boosting productivity and ensuring we meet that critical deadline. However, long-term stress can seriously damage mental and physical health to such an extent we have no choice other than to take stress leave.

If you feel stress is getting you down, then time off can be an excellent antidote. The staff holiday planner is your friend. Make sure you use it wisely.