On trial

The Health and Safety Executive has begun a six-month trial of new stress
management standards, prior to their introduction next year. Nic Paton gets the
inside track from Innogy, one of the 24 organisations involved in the pilot

Utility company Innogy was all too happy to help pilot the new draft stress
management standards developed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), as it
has been working unilaterally on something similar for the best part of a year.

The company is the name behind Npower, well-known to households around the
country who see its name on their gas, electricity, insurance and phone bills.
Originally one half of National Power, it demerged in 2000 and operates and
manages coal, oil and gas-fired power stations around the country.

Claire Forty, Innogy’s senior occupational health nurse, who is leading the
stress management pilot, is keen to emphasise that stress is not a particular
problem within the organisation. But ensuring people are less stressed, and so
more productive and contented in their work, is a business issue that top
management has been happy to embrace.

"We recognised the need for a risk assessment for stress some time ago,
so we started to look at various methods and to pilot our own form of it. We
formally launched it in October last year, before the HSE standards came out.
We are piloting the standards, but not their process," she explains.

What Innogy learns from the pilot scheme will be fed back to the HSE, as
will the lessons picked up from the other 24 organisations piloting the
standards. This information, plus feedback from the wider community, will
ultimately lead to the publication of the standards some time in the next 12

Where Innogy’s process differs from the HSE’s, is that rather than using a
paper questionnaire in two phases, Innogy has decided to pilot a single online
stress management tool.

So far, the process has been piloted among 500 staff and nine managers.

It starts with a half-hour presentation by an OH nurse on stress awareness.
This is followed by a half-day training session for the managers, which is
aimed at helping them to identify when stress is manifesting itself and what
the causes, such as home or work pressures, might be.

The course also gives tips on how to conduct a stress-based risk assessment,
covering areas such as appropriate interventions, what sort of reasonable
adjustments managers might be expected to make, and so on.

The managers go back and brief their staff, who fill in a short
internet-based questionnaire. A minimum of 10 people must do the questionnaire
at any one time to ensure there is enough of a sample to retain anonymity.

"A big part of it is that people will be more willing to fill in the
questionnaire if they know they are not going to be identified," explains

"From this information we can identify areas where there may be a
problem. Managers then get together with their staff and hold focus group
discussions to look at what can be done together," she says.

"Once we have held the focus group discussion, the idea is that we
leave it for a minimum of three months, then repeat the online tool to see if
actions taken have worked," Forty says.

As yet, the survey has just been done and results are still being analysed.
But the anecdotal evidence is that simply airing the issue and looking at
possible solutions is already proving useful. "We have had very few people
who have not liked it, or who have found it difficult. The feedback has been
very good," she says.

Where the HSE standards will come in particularly useful, Forty believes, is
in setting a benchmark against which firms can judge how they are doing. The
standards take as a base the estimate that around 20 per cent of employees are
likely to be very or extremely stressed at any one time. To meet the standards,
at least 85 per cent of employees will need to be satisfied with the demands
put on them, the level of control they have and the support on offer. And at
least 65 per cent will need to indicate they are satisfied when it comes to how
work relationships and change are managed.

"Risk assessment has been around for a long time. Everyone knows about
it, but for stress it is very difficult. It is very hard to measure because
there is often so little to go on," says Forty.

"These standards give HR a starting point. If it works, we’ll be
looking to roll it out across the company," she adds.


The innogy questionnaire

Innogy’s questionnaire is divided
into six sections, with questions linked to a scoring system, and looks at the
following areas:

Culture The make-up of the organisation’s culture and
how it approaches work-related stress

Demands What is an employee’s workload, and how much are
they exposed to physical hazards?

Control How much say does a person have in the way they
do their work?

Relationships What are your workplace relationships
like, are there any issues of bullying and harassment?

Role Whether the individual understands their role
within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures they do not have
conflicting roles

Support What training is available and what factors are
unique to the individual, what support is there from peers and line management?

Key facts

– Innogy employs some 12,000-14,000
staff, headquartered in Swindon. It was bought last year by German utility
company RWE

– The HR department is led by director Joerg Tiemann, and
employs 25 staff with a further 12 looking after a number of other departments.
Npower has its own HR department

– There are OH nurses located at all Innogy sites and power
stations around the country, and five based in Swindon. Two OH nurses are
leading the stress management programme

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