Employers aim to reduce workplace stress

Most employers have taken steps to reduce the prevalence of stress in the workplace, according to a recent survey by Personnel Today’s sister organisation, pay specialist IRS.

The survey of 121 employers – covering a combined workforce of almost 540,000 people – found that 101 have put measures in place to tackle workforce stress, and identified 20 different ways in which employers try to manage it. However, the most popular methods were the use of return-to-work interviews after stress-related absence (98%), and the use of a phased return to work to help rehabilitate staff on stress-related sick leave (74%).

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) stress management standards – which identify six aspects of work that have a significant bearing on stress, such as the management of change, workloads, and working relationships – were used by 64% of the employers surveyed. And two-thirds made use of its other resources.

Employers have a legal duty to address any problems in the workplace. But the main reasons for implementing stress management measures were found to be promoting employee wellbeing, reducing absence, and compliance with the law.

Training is provided by 68.3% of the employers surveyed. Most employers (81%) provide training for line managers to tackle poor people management skills – a key source of work-related stress.

Staff are also provided with training to help them manage their own stress levels (68%), time management (58%) and conflict management (51%).

The majority of employers surveyed were uncertain as to whether their efforts had been successful. But 33% said their stress management measures had delivered a measurable improvement on the overall level of absence from work.

There have been several recent reports on rising stress levels in the midst of the economic downturn, triggered by financial concerns, job security fears, and working longer hours in a bid to avoid being made redundant by demonstrating diligence and loyalty.

More than half (57.4%) of the respondents believed the recession would have an impact on their stress management measures. And 86% believed their measures would have to be increased to deal with rising levels of stress among their employees.

The HSE defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them’ – causes potentially harmful psychological and physiological conditions. According to its statistics, four in 10 (39.9%) days’ absence in 2007-08 were linked to stress, amounting to 13,539,000 days off work across the UK economy.

Stress management measures

 Measure  % of employers
Return-to-work interviews for staff returning from stress-related absences


Offering a phased return to work


Referring staff who were absent for stress-related reasons to an occupational health adviser


Offering flexible working options


Offering redeployment to another job or location


Visiting staff at home during long-term, stress-related absence


Risk assessments for staff returning from stress-related absence to identify stressors/potential stressors


 Access to counselling


One-to-ones between managers and team members about stress issues


Providing an employee assistance programme


Encouraging staff to visit the workplace during long-term, stress-related absence


Referral to services to help with employees’ alcohol and/or drug abuse


Using a case management approach


Advice on healthy eating, diet etc


Referring staff who were absent for stress-related reasons to their GP


Referring staff who were absent for stress-related reasons to a specialist health practitioner


Free or subsidised health screening (eg for blood pressure)


Crisis response (eg to incidents such as violence or workplace emergencies)


Other measures
























Source – IRS

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