Managing stress in small to medium-sized businesses

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

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

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

current and accurate job description; and

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

stress should be dealt with supportively under strong personnel policies.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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