Take the time to pin down stress at work

Stress is the malaise of the 21st century workforce and is causing headaches for vexed HR managers nationwide. The cause and effect of stress can be seen in any company. Ask any HR head what their main health- problem is among staff (and themselves), and after back pain they will say stress.

It is one of the biggest occupational illnesses facing companies today. And tomorrow there is no doubt that it will be followed by ever-more costly legal claims as staff sue over stress.

The success last week of the Disability Rights Commission-backed case of a senior council official suffering from stress-related depression, shows that there is no escape for organisations which do not take the condition seriously (News, p3).

The good news is that the Health and Safety Commission is doing something about it, with the publication last week of its plans to help employers fight stress.

The experts have recognised at long last that there must be clear, agreed standards of management practice for those struggling to define stress in the workforce and seeking a solution. These standards will then measure an employer’s performance in managing stress. It has charged the Health and Safety Executive with producing detailed plans on how to do this by the Autumn.

So grab this opportunity to tackle stress in the workplace. If you don’t, then the bad news is that the HSC has not ruled out an approved code of practice on stress, which will make short shrift of employers who are foolish enough to proceed to an employment tribunal having ignored what it says.

The HSC chairman Bill Callaghan says he does not want any employer to be in any doubt that it is determined to see a clear reduction in the amount of illness caused or made worse by work-related stress. The first step is standards, but this could be followed by a health and safety highway code. It will keep the need for this semi-legal code under review – just in case employers decide to do nothing. Be warned.

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