No need for HR to feel stressed over HSE move

All good employers should welcome, and be unperturbed by, the news (page 1)
that the first management standards on stress will be entering the workplace by
the end of this year.

With more than 13.5 million working days lost each year to stress-related
illness, this latest initiative from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has
been on the cards for sometime. An awareness campaign including media
advertising, guidelines and an action line ran throughout 2002, but the whole
issue takes on a fresh impetus this year, with the promise of audits being
added to routine health and safety inspections. The challenge for HR is to
implement policies that organisations can wholeheartedly embrace.

Be warned, though, that the HSE will investigate complaints and unions will
be more vigilant where employers are failing. Clearly, too many organisations
still pay lip service to prevention. One in five workers report being made ill
by work-related stress and sickness absence is rife in some sectors.

The causes of work-related stress are diverse and complex, but are classic
HR territory and are associated with the design, organisation and management of
work. Plain good management is fundamental to tackling stress. Common triggers
include working at high speed, uncertainty about job roles, lack of control,
high demands and poor management of change.

HR is pivotal to integrating stress management policies and occupational
health professionals are obvious partners. But the track record of both parties
working collaboratively is not impressive. Too often there are disparities in
managing the problem with either side viewing stress from a different
perspective and occasionally pulling in opposite directions.

Recognising common business aims is crucial and HR should take the lead in
resolving difficulties to ensure any new stress management policies quickly
become part of the corporate culture.

All of us are vulnerable to stress, and addressing the problem in the way
advised by the HSE is not rocket science – yet many employers are still a long
way from even reaching the basic launch pad.

By Jane King

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