Stress policy in five steps

Heather Falconer outlines the latest guidance from the HSE on how to tackle
stress within your organisation

1. Identify the hazards

Carry out sickness absence data
monitoring. If a particular team or unit has high levels of sickness absence,
investigate the causes – conditions or work organisation may be raising stress
levels and, in turn, absenteeism

– Conduct return-to-work interviews to find out if and why
staff are taking time off for stress

– Talk to your staff and get them to talk to you. Ask them
about things that may be upsetting them or making work difficult

– Use focus groups to encourage people to be open and candid

– Conduct exit interviews if staff turnover is high

2. Establish who might be harmed

– Use the stress factors identified
by the HSE as most significant to group the issues identified in Step 1 under
headings. This is a useful first move, says the HSE, in sorting and
prioritising the information gained from Step 1. The headings are:

– Demands: Are staff comfortable with their amount of work or

– Control: Are staff involved in deciding what work they do and
when and how they do it?

– Support: Are staff getting adequate support for work or
personal problems? Have they had adequate training?

– Relationships: How are relationships conducted? Are there
bullying/harassment problems?

– Roles: Are staff clear what is expected of them? Do multiple
roles conflict with rather than complement each other?

– Change: Do you communicate with and consult adequately about
organisational change?

– Culture: Do you promote open dialogue among staff?

3. Develop an action plan

 Don’t try to tackle everything your risk assessment identifies at

– Start with the smaller problems that can be solved quickly –
for example, improving communication by introducing regular team meetings. This
should immediately reduce overall stress levels, the HSE says, making it easier
to solve more difficult problems over time

– When contemplating more costly measures, such as employing
extra staff, consider whether the potential benefits justify the financial cost

– Consult and involve staff when deciding what to do

4. Take action

– You must make practical
interventions to reduce employee exposure to the stressors identified as
presenting the greatest risk, the HSE emphasises

– There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to each stressor.
The HSE urges employers to look at its guidance and ask how much you are doing
towards the guidelines set out

– Look at what other organisations are doing. The HSE is
currently gathering a database of case studies to facilitate this

5. Evaluate and share your work

– Try to demonstrate any quantitative
improvements that result from your interventions, such as a reduction in staff
turnover or absenteeism

– After each action, repeat Step 1 to establish whether staff
feel any of the problems have been reduced or eliminated¥ Share good practice
by contributing case studies and training materials to the HSE website or to
other firms

– When you meet other companies in your sector, set aside some
time to talk about stress

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