60-second interview with Elaine Gray 2018

Elaine Gray 2018, 30/4/2018

Elaine Gray is a Partner at Carey Olsen, Guernsey. 

What does your firm or organisation do?

Carey Olsen is a leading offshore law firm advising on the laws of Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Guernsey and Jersey.

You will be speaking about stress prevention and management at the STEP EPP Spring Forum on 17 May. What will the audience be able to take away from your session?

A better understanding of how stress arises in the work context, how employers can manage the risk of employees suffering from stress and practical tips on keeping a workforce healthy.

How did you get interested in managing stress at work?

My first involvement with stress was when I was asked to advise an employer on a claim by employees for psychiatric injury caused, allegedly, by workplace stress. This was around 20 years ago, and at that time, the courts were just beginning to see claims for stress and psychiatric injury. Gradually, the courts came to appreciate that people could be just as badly impacted by mental health issues as they were by physical injuries. Nowadays, mental health concerns are just as much of a concern to the HR community as the risk of physical injury or ill-health. It is also fair to say that staff welfare and well-being is now under much more scrutiny than ever before.

What would you say are the major causes?

There is no single, root cause of stress. However, technological advances, restructuring, cost-cutting and a 24/7 culture have certainly increased the pressure on employees. These greater demands can lead to workloads becoming unrealistic and unsustainable, especially if employees are unable, or feel reluctant, to speak up about mental health issues.

What are the risks for employers who do not support their staff with mental health problems?

Ultimately the organisation will suffer: there will be an impact on both individual and team performance. There is also the potential for extended absences, which affect productivity and also increase the workloads of colleagues who have to cover for them. In addition, the firm's reputation as an employer may be at risk if it is perceived that it does not value mental health, or deal with such issues sensitively and effectively.

What practical steps can an employer take to look after those suffering from stress?

There is no magic bullet to deal with stress-related issues, nor is there a strategy which is appropriate for every workplace. However, training and awareness among managers is key for early intervention and the good management of stress in the workplace.

What external resources are there?

There are a number of good external resources available. The UK Health & Safety Executive suggests that employers should focus on six management standards relating to stress. These are available at www.hse.gov.uk.

Elaine Gray is a Partner at Carey Olsen, Guernsey. She advises clients on employment law, commercial and trust litigation, data protection and intellectual property (IP) matters. She is ranked in both Chambers (Europe and UK) and Legal 500 as a leading individual in employment law and has considerable experience in complex trust disputes. She acts for a number of the major financial services businesses on the island in contentious and non-contentious employment issues as well as tribunal representation.