Stress in the workplace: are you prepared?

Andy Acton looks at some measures which could be put in place to protect your business from the effects of stress

The Mental Health Foundation published its latest research earlier this year on stress and the findings should get all of us thinking about the ticking time bomb that is mental health. The study, an online poll undertaken by YouGov, had a sample size of 4,619 respondents, the largest known study of stress in the UK.

The research found that in the past year 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. The psychological effects are clear. Of the people who said they had felt stress at some point in their lives 16% had self-harmed and 32% said they had had suicidal thoughts and feelings.

There are many reasons for the causes of stress; housing worries, debt and health considerations were all cited. Pressure from work is also one potential contributory factor.

Your policies

Employers cannot afford to ignore the mental health of staff and many organisations are now calling for parity between mental and physical health. Stress within the workplace could be caused by any number of factors including bullying and sexual harassment. It therefore makes sound business sense to have mental health policies in place within your practice.

As well as a policy to support the mental health needs of your team it’s also advisable to consider having a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) in place. An LPA is a legal document appointing a person or persons of your choice to be your attorney(s) in the event of ‘mental incapacity’.

This is a term used in law and medicine to describe when a person is not able to make decisions. It can be temporary or permanent and a common cause is severe stress, depression and/or anxiety.

Potential problems

Let’s cut the legal jargon now, and review how having an LPA in place might benefit a practice. Let’s say that, this summer, you jet off for a week to St.Tropez and have a serious accident whilst jet-skiing, which results in you being comatose for six weeks. Without an LPA your business account is frozen, meaning that you cannot make payments, including wages.

If you had a family member/friend (also a dentist) as your LPA they’d be able to organise immediate locum cover as well as ensure staff/suppliers are paid. You make a full recovery over a period of three months, and return to a practice that has continued operating whilst you were incapacitated.

St Tropez and jet-skiing not your thing? Well, let’s imagine that you’re at the end of your career and you experience a physical setback, such as having a stroke. You and your partner (also a dentist) had been planning to sell your practice in the next couple of years, ready for your retirement, however, in such a scenario they would not be able to proceed without an LPA in place.

With one, whoever’s acting as your attorney could put matters in the hands of your solicitor, who could proceed with the sale, with your goodwill intact.

Plan to…

If you’re in partnership with another clinician and jointly own the practice, an LPA is essential. None of us are immune to health risks, whether physical or mental. Imagine if you were just about to purchase a new panoramic machine as your existing unit had seen better days and your business partner was suddenly incapacitated.

You would not be able to proceed with the acquisition without an LPA, even if it meant that without the new equipment you would not be able to work.

Whilst I have used some editorial license in the above examples, they’re all loosely based on real scenarios I’ve experienced over nearly twenty years of working in the dental sector.

My advice to practitioners would be to get some advice. I remember a teacher from school warning me that if I ‘failed to plan, then I should plan to fail’. That advice I have heeded beyond my school days and would encourage others to do too.

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