Best practice

Personnel
Today’s monthly series reveals how managers deal with business problems and
enhance performance.

In
this issue, Mike Eccles, from Huntsman Tioxide, explains how a stress survey
transformed the company atmosphere, creating a less stressful environment for everyone.

Huntsman
Tioxide, previously part of ICI, is one of the world’s largest producers of
titanium dioxide pigment, which is used primarily in the production of paints
and plastics. It employs more than 3,000 people worldwide, spans more than
seven countries and has a production capacity of 570,000 tonnes a year.

At
Tioxide’s central research and development site in Billingham, the health,
safety and working environment of employees has always been given high
priority. A small group of staff are qualified in counselling skills and
voluntarily assist colleagues on site by offering the opportunity to discuss
any issues or concerns in confidence. In 1997 these counsellors (The
Counselling Network) approached the management team with concerns about people
who were feeling over-stressed for various reasons. Management agreed that
something needed to be done.

Several
problems faced the counsellors: identifying the cause or causes of stress,
finding out who was affected and, of course, trying to help. The Counselling
Network also knew they should avoid spending a lot of money researching a
problem that might turn out to be affecting only a few people – who might be
helped in a different way.

Bearing
this in mind, the Network approached the Lancaster Group, which specialises in
finding ways of alleviating stress in the workplace. After consultation with
them, the Huntsman counsellors championed the conduct a “stress survey” among
all employees, to assess the extent of the problem accurately.

How
we implemented the change

The
survey was designed to find out what types of stresses individuals are under
and to show which situations create stress and how staff deal with them.

While
the Lancaster Group prepared the survey, The Counselling Network began
educating Tioxide staff to ensure they felt confident with the process and
trusted the confidentiality of the results. The management team stepped back
from the proceedings to avoid the outcome being affected by their intervention.

The
counsellors talked with each team individually, explaining exactly what the
survey was for, why it was being proposed and how it would work. The investment
in explaining how the survey worked paid off, with an 80 per cent response rate
to the survey – one of the highest the Lancaster Group had witnessed.

Confidentiality
was maintained throughout the process. Completed questionnaires were analysed
by The Lancaster Group before mailing the feedback to individual’s home
addresses rather than to the company offices. Huntsman Tioxide had access only
to group and team results which allowed them to identify problem areas and plan
changes while retaining the anonymity of the individual.

After
receiving the feedback from The Lancaster Group there were many implications
for the company. If employees did have a problem with stress then Tioxide had
to be prepared to propose a solution.

Help
came in various ways. The Lancaster Group provided everyone with a booklet
about reducing the impact of stress in their lives. Also, consultants were
available for anyone whose feedback had shown them to be highly stressed and
unable to deal with it.

It
was strongly felt by the counsellors and the management team that there should
always be an avenue outside the company for anyone who felt they needed to
talk, so employees were encouraged to seek help from whomever they felt
comfortable with.

Positive
outcomes for the business

The
most positive outcome from the survey has been a change of attitude. Employees
now talk about stress. It has developed from being something that was suffered
in silence to something that can be discussed and solved.

A
number of practical measures have been introduced to help change the working
environment. For example, one team has introduced aromatherapy and has
installed equipment in the office to try to combat stress, while another team
has started a lunchtime fitness group, going to the gym to work out any stress
or frustrations.

It
has also been acknowledged that, to a large extent, the feeling within a team
is dependent on how it is managed. The company has always encouraged managers
to get feedback from their teams and the survey highlighted how important this
is as a tool. As a result, more people have taken the opportunity to learn more
about their own style as a manager and how they can adapt in order to improve
the atmosphere within their team.

Stress
is no longer something to be hidden away at Huntsman Tioxide.  By facing up to the problem, talking about
it and making changes to combat it, workers at Huntsman Tioxide no longer let
stress rule their lives.

There
have been several additional surveys at Billingham since 1997, both checking on
progress and extending the depth of the analysis. Other Huntsman Tioxide sites
worldwide are following the initiative with surveys either completed or
planned. 

Proof
of success is always a challenge but the Billingham Site did its part last year
in delivering the group’s best performance for a very long time.

Top
tips: Carrying out a stress survey


Try to dissipate any concerns or threats people might feel at first, it is very
important to educate people about why the survey is needed. Carefully planned
open communication is essential.


It is essential to maintain the confidentiality promised, should a rumour begin
as a result of the survey no one would ever take part again.


It is important to see it as more than just a survey, the company has got to be
prepared to help following the feedback. If stress is an inherent part of the
job, try to educate staff about coping mechanisms which will enable individuals
to deal with it.


Ensure you have an independent company such as The Lancaster Group doing the
survey, this provides great reassurance for everyone, and they have experts
available to talk through any problems.

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