Managing stress in small to medium-sized businesses

Sue
Smith, director of stress and absence management consultancy at SMS
Partnership, provides practical tips on how to keep stress out of the workplace

Workplace
stress is necessary to motivate staff and maximise productivity, irrespective
of company size or business focus. However, if it is not effectively managed,
too much stress can impact negatively upon employees and compromise
productivity.

Avoidance
of health problems arising from workplace stress begins at the pre-employment
stage. A company recruitment policy should include:

Stringent
selection criteria to ensure the person employed is physically and emotionally
able to undertake the role required of them

A
current and accurate job description; and

The
chosen applicant should have relevant experience, or the potential for
training, to undertake the tasks involved.

Adequate
induction to the company is equally essential. This fundamental level of
control by the employer will automatically moderate the applicant’s risk of a
stress-related illness.

The
mechanics of workplace stress are multi-faceted, but they are not a mystery.
Four main factors should be considered:


The work environment – encompasses everything from welfare facilities,
machinery and equipment, to noise, dust and general housekeeping


Organisational culture – includes management styles, work relationships and
communication


Contractual issues – associated with employee terms and conditions


Job design – the actual work done, including volume, demands, conflicting
orders and an awareness of what is required of each employee.

Employers
have a statutory duty to comply with the Management of Health & Safety at
Work Regulations 1999, and assess an employee’s work, as well as the workplace.
This includes the psychological hazards.

An
employee’s perception of work-related stress will be their reality, and should
not be ignored.  A risk assessment
approach will enable employers to determine whether there is a generic or
individual problem. Often, stress impacts upon the workplace, but is not caused
by it, and a robust system of assessment should determine what the real issues
are.

Non-work-related
stress should be dealt with supportively under strong personnel policies.

When
problematic issues are identified, early intervention and appropriate
management procedures are essential. All parties must agree upon a remedial
action plan. The importance of follow up and documentation cannot be emphasised
too strongly for success to be achieved.

Employers
must be confident that they can address problem issues with a structured and
well-documented approach. Training should be directed towards strong
communications, management styles, and employee involvement within the company,
rather than stress awareness.

Good
managers will be ‘stress aware’ and support their staff to optimise their cost
effectiveness within the company.

Managers’
five-point approach to workplace stress


Understand and identify potential workplace stressors


Implement communication strategies and management training


Develop and use a range of robust personnel policies


Manage and support stressed staff sensitively


Undertake a psychological risk assessment at regular intervals

Sue
Smith is director of stress and absence management consultancy, SMS
Partnership. Online guidance for absence and a workplace stress risk assessment
tool are available at www.manageabsence.com

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