Employers stressed out over HSE guide

New
standards to help manage stress in the workplace have been welcomed by industry
as a step in the right direction. But experts are worried they could be
overly-prescriptive.

Released
last week, the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) management standards are
designed to help employers gauge stress levels, identify causes and work with
employees to resolve any difficulties.

Under
the new standards, which are now open to consultation for three-months,
employees will be asked to rate their satisfaction levels for six key
work-related stress categories – demands, control, support, relationships, role
and change. For each category, the employer must achieve a specified
organisation-wide staff satisfaction percentage.

It
is these HSE percentages – ranging from 65 per cent to 85 per cent – which are
the concern.

Ben
Willmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel
and Development, said he would prefer continuous improvement targets that were
achievable and applied on a case-by-case basis.

"It
could be quite disillusioning for companies if they have to reach the perceived
‘utopia’ of 85 per cent," he said.

However,
Lesley Cooper, consultant at healthcare company IHC, said the percentage
thresholds for some of the categories were too low. And Petra Cook, head of
policy at the Chartered Management Institute, said the role of managers in
identifying and responding to symptoms of stress was crucial. "It’s down
to line managers to be responsive and communicate with their teams
properly," Cook said.

Barry
Winbolt, head of clinical practice and training at healthcare consultancy PPC,
urged HR to be more aggressive in marketing the idea of stress management to
the board.

Hilary
Isham, director of personnel and training at the Shaw Trust, admitted that
while HR could do more, stress was often not top of the list of priorities.

By
Mike Berry

To
have your say on the new standards, visit the HSE website: www.hse.gov.uk/consult/condocs/stressms.htm

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