Good practice makes perfect

Last month saw the conclusion of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) consultation exercise on tackling workplace stress, and it is due to launch its stress management standards at the end of the year. But organisations don’t have to wait until then to reap the benefits of the HSE’s research into best practice and workplace stress.

Its report, Beacons of Excellence in Stress Prevention, available since last year, lists 18 organisations that are demonstrating good practice in stress prevention and management.

Each excels in certain areas of stress prevention, and together they present a good picture of how enlightened management can reduce stress levels among employees.

The HSE highlights seven best practice categories:

– Top management commitment

– Risk assessment

– Stress prevention strategy

– Participative approach

– Interventions, primary level

– Interventions, secondary level

– Tertiary interventions.

Evidence of top management commitment was found within most of the organisations. Senior staff had to show they were taking personal responsibility for stress prevention, as well as promoting stress prevention and emp-loyee health and well-being throughout the organisation.

Best practice examples included Rolls-Royce, which is bringing together experts from health and safety, OH and HR to tackle the issue; GlaxoSmithKline, which has built a resilience and mental well-being standard into its business objectives; and Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council, where senior staff participated in stress awareness training and tested their stress awareness competence.

High scorers in the risk awareness category were Somerset County Council, which has the most comprehensive stress risk assessment approach of all 18 organisations, and undertook an organisation-wide stress audit in 2001; and Denbighshire County Council social services department, which has developed an easy-to-use checklist that managers can use to assess the psychosocial risks faced by social workers.

Organisations scored less highly in the stress prevention strategy category, but the researchers gave honourable mentions to a number of employers, including London Electricity, which leads a stress prevention strategy from the top as a key component of organisational culture and competitiveness; the London Borough of Hounslow, which has a good stress policy; and Stockton Borough Council, which has overcome the public sector problem of lack of finance by developing a strategic alliance with the NHS.

Royal and Sun Alliance led the field when it came to taking a participative approach, with its effective employee survey, while both Leicestershire County Council Department of Planning and Transportation and Gloucestershire City Council use ‘expert networks’ – networks of people with particular expertise in stress prevention. These people have a ‘day job’ in that they are line managers and staff within the business, but have also been trained in some aspect of health and well-being.

Nine examples of primary interventions – in which working styles were changed or adapted to reduce stress – were highlighted.

Good practice methods that impressed the researchers included the London Borough of Hownslow, which helps staff in its neighbourhood enforcement unit who are responsible for noise control and can be exposed to abuse or violence from the public.

After a risk assessment and staff survey, shift patterns were changed so that staff had the chance to rest after busy and stressful shifts. Also staff now always work in pairs, and ‘stab jackets’ are provided for protection, and team meetings are also held following dangerous incidents.

All of these initiatives are giving staff a greater sense of control over the stress in their jobs.

Secondary interventions – in which staff are trained to deal more effectively with stress – were praised by the researchers. Stress awareness training was most widely used, while other interventions included healthy lifestyle programmes, stress coaching, social support groups, training and education programmes and information support.

AstraZeneca’s Career and Life Management Programme (CALM) came in for a special mention here. This is an extensive policy of support for people at work, and is unique in offering staff support for a range of issues outside work, including bereavement and family problems.

Tertiary initiatives providing counselling were well publicised to staff, the researchers found. Good Hope Hospital was praised for using an external organisational psychologist as a health coach, offering advice and support and guidance to line managers on improving organisational design.

London Electricity’s appro-ach also impressed research-ers. Staff who have been absent due to illness can have round table discussions with line managers, counsellors and HR staff to smooth the transition back to work: another example of helping staff cut their stress levels by giving them a greater sense of control.

Beacons of Excellence in Stress Prevention, prepared by Robertson Cooper Ltd and UMIST, research report 133, can be downloaded from the HSE’s website


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