How to achieve ‘stress busting’

At the beginning of November, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) launched management standards and a tool kit to help businesses address the issue of stress in the workplace. It advised companies to begin with a stress audit, and one of the first companies to take that advice was FirstAssist.

FirstAssist was formed in April 2003 following a management buy-out from Royal & SunAlliance. It sells a combination of health insurance and services designed to help businesses manage the health and wellbeing of their staff.

Sue Lewis, HR policy manager, explained: “We’d done an audit a couple of years ago when we were part of Royal & SunAlliance, so were due to do another one as part of our existing commitment to staff wellbeing. When we saw that the HSE had published the format for its pilot audits on the internet we thought it would be sensible to use that.”

The company sent questionnaires to all 1,100 staff to audit their levels of stress at work. It took the questions from the HSE website, altering the language in a few places to make them more relevant to the company. The questionnaires were dropped on employees’ desks and everyone was sent a reminder e-mail. An encouraging 90 per cent of employees responded. Results were fed into a spreadsheet, which had also been downloaded from the HSE website, and this produced scores for each of the organisation’s six UK locations.

Five received a green light. However, one site was amber in two areas – change and support – so a second questionnaire was sent out at the end of September. This highlighted the stress resulting from managers on 24-hour advice lines and similar areas not communicating with staff as effectively as they might.

Lewis was not surprised by this finding: “We knew there were gaps in the management of some areas of the business but the audit helped us to pinpoint exactly what they were and what needed to be done.” The company was already running a Management Development Programme; a series of masterclasses designed specifically to improve communication and motivational skills. So, it has now ensured that the right people are directly benefiting from it. So far 40 managers have been involved.

The results will only be clear when FirstAssist runs the next audit in 12 months, but Lewis is confident the company is doing the right things to tackle stress. “The HSE guidelines were really useful, and they meant we could do it all at very little cost. We had to pay for printing the questionnaires, and it took a bit of time to input the results, but it’s worth it. Not only have we pinpointed the gaps so we can address them, but we’ve also identified best practice and can now share it around the organisation, ” she said.

Lewis offers this advice to anyone thinking of running a similar audit: “Call it a Wellbeing Audit rather than the rather negative Stress Audit that the HSE suggests. Don’t be afraid to alter the language of the questionnaires. Be aware that holding an audit raises expectations of action, so be prepared to act on the findings.”


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