The chief executive of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum is calling upon North East businesses to create a supportive culture in recognition of the growing issue of workplace stress.

Speaking on National Stress Awareness Day (Wednesday 6 November), a campaign led by mental health charity Mind, Jonathan Lamb acknowledged that most entrepreneurs will experience first-hand the symptoms of stress, especially during periods of significant change.

“Many business leaders will have themselves experienced the effects of excessive stress and are therefore well placed to make a positive change to the workplace culture and on the lives of their employees.”

According to the Health and Safety Executive, in 2017/18 more than 600,000 people nationally reported being affected by work-related stress and anxiety – accounting for almost 44% of all work-related illness. Workload pressures and lack of managerial support are cited as the main causes.

“Everyone has to cope with a certain level of stress at work but excessive levels over prolonged periods have a serious impact on physical and mental wellbeing,” he added.

Forum member Jayne Hart, managing director of The HR Dept Newcastle, said: “My experience with small businesses I work with is that a great deal of work is still to be done regarding mental health in the workplace.

“Employees are finding it easier to talk about issues such as stress, anxiety and general mental wellbeing but managers struggle with exactly how they support the individual.

“Whilst more people are willing to talk about such issues, a stigma still remains, along with the fear that it is seen as a sign of weakness.

“Businesses must take a strong and proactive approach that ensures that managers have the confidence and knowledge to be able to talk about mental health issues with staff – and for that to be the norm.”

Fellow Forum member Nicky Jolley, managing director of Darlington-based HR2day, said businesses must create a safe and sympathetic environment where staff feel able to discuss their feelings.

She added: “Some employers choose to ignore the issue simply because they don’t know what to do. However, there is a huge amount of information and expert support available.

“A failure to act has an adverse effect on the business, with employees choosing to either leave or take time off as a result.

“We must change the whole culture around stress and a willingness to talk about this phenomenon is an important first step. It’s about having the conversation, ensuring there is a support network and a strategy in place to make a positive difference.”

For further information visit: www.mind.org.uk

Photo Caption: Jonathan Lamb, chief executive of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum