According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the UK loses over 11 million days of work each year because of stress-related absences. That’s the kind of figure which would put a dent in anyone’s budget.
Employers have a legal obligation to protect their staff as much as possible from Health & Safety issues, and that includes workplace stress.
What is work-related stress?
Stress is defined as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. It’s the tipping point beyond feeling up against it, to no longer being able to cope with unreasonable amounts of pressure. Everyone is vulnerable to the effects of stress, though for some it can be difficult to admit to and talk about.
To monitor the potential dangers of workplace stress, employers should include a stress checkpoint in risk assessments, and do something about it.
What are the legal requirements for stress risk assessments?
A risk assessment must be documented if the business employs more than five people. For fewer than five, nothing has to be written down, but best practice says that it’s not a bad idea.
Carrying out a risk assessment means there is an expectation of action being taken on the findings. Having everything recorded helps keep track of what’s what, and to reflect on the
Tackling work based stress
The HSE has identified six key areas which should be managed to protect employees as much as possible. Are you sitting comfortably? We shall begin.
Employees are ‘only’ human, so treating them like robots is never going to work long term. It means making sure that the workload isn’t unrealistic for one person to manage, but it doesn’t stop there. Not having the skills or knowledge to complete new tasks can also be stressful, so providing proper training is essential.
Workers are individuals. Whilst some jobs must be done a certain way and at a particular time, having an element of control can alleviate some of the tension. Having a chat to plan things out is a big step in the right direction. Which brings us nicely to point number three.
Be available to staff. Not just physically present, but actually approachable and communicative. It helps to open up the channels of chat. As well as the potential for all sorts of new-fangled ideas, it lets the team know that they will be listened to, and taken seriously. Making sure the right sort of information is available is also a big part of the overall communication needs of any business.
Sometimes personalities just don’t gel, or even the best relationships wobble under intense pressure and deadlines.
Staff don’t have to be friends, or even like each other that much, but they do have an obligation to get along to move the work along. Workplace bullying is a big issue and a huge barrier to that, so regular monitoring is key. Signpost alternative ways of escalating issues if the problem is in the chain of command.
Roles change over time, or might not be properly described from day one. Uncertainty around what the responsibilities of a job entail can cause a lot of stress with employees trying to second guess. Documenting the role can be a big help, as can regular review meetings to keep the machine well oiled.
Change in the workplace is a big one. It can sometimes be difficult to get the buy-in of staff who are experiencing a change in their work, be it role, location, or processes. Early communication, and actually listening to feedback rather than presenting fait accompli will help teams be more engaged.
Recognising and monitoring the triggers can help reduce stress in the workplace. View the HSE stress risk assessment template for help.