This week sees the start of the 2014 European Week for Safety and Health at Work, a highlight of the Healthy Workplaces Campaign.
Taking place between the 20 and 24 October, events will be held across Europe to mark the occasion, all focusing on the topic of – Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress.
According to the HSE, work-related stress accounts for over a third of all new incidences of ill health. Each case of work-related stress, depression or anxiety results in an average of 30.2 lost working days. With 13.8 million days lost to stress over the period 2006-2007, shouldn’t all employers be doing something to control it? The answer is emphatically “Yes, we should!”
Pressure is a natural part of life; when maintained at a reasonable level it gets the adrenaline pumping and can improve performance at work, at school and on a sports field. However, consistently high pressure levels can lead to stress and can be likened to a leaking tap in a bath tub when the overflow cannot cope; eventually the bath will overflow. No one sets out to create an unhealthy workplace; but then again it doesn’t just happen.
If stress is ‘the adverse reaction people have to pressure and other types of demand placed on them’, we need to know what we are reacting against. Only then can the issues be discussed, resolved and ultimately controlled before stress levels become unhealthy.
Successfully addressing stress in a company can bring profound benefits, not only is the workforce happier, but also:
1. Employees have a greater commitment to work
2. Staff performance and productivity improves
3. Staff turnover or intention to leave reduces
4. Staff recruitment and retention increases
5. Customer satisfaction is enhanced
6. Company image and reputation benefits
Where Do We Start?
A documented Stress Policy communicated to staff would be a good first step. If we know its OK ‘to put our hand up’ and communicate our issues, problems can be tackled before they get ‘out of hand’.
Employers have a duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to assess foreseeable risks and ensure adequate workplace controls reduce the risk to as low as is reasonably practicable. If experience and figures are to be believed, then stress is a foreseeable risk in today’s workplace and suitable and sufficient risk assessments must be carried out. We should therefore ask ourselves the following questions:
1. What are our workplace stresses?
2. Who is likely to get stressed and who is more prone to stress?
3. What systems do we currently have in place to identify and deal with stress in the workplace?
4. Are our systems sufficient or could we do more?
5. How do we educate our employees?
6. How do we monitor stress and our management of it?
As a part of this process it may be necessary to collect data on sickness and ill health leave and staff turnover and to carry out employee surveys / questionnaires. By discussing stress with our employees and documenting the risk assessment process we will steadily move towards compliance with legislation and a healthy workplace.
HSE Management Standards
The HSE have produced the ‘Management Standards’ to help employers assess and control stress in the workplace. These standards represent a set of conditions that reflect high levels of health, well being and organisational performance and should be used as a part of the risk assessment process.
• Demands – i.e. workload, work patterns and the work environment
• Control – i.e. how much control an employee has in the way they carry out their work
• Support – i.e. the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
• Relationships – i.e. promoting positive working to avoid conflict and ensuring unacceptable behaviour is dealt with
• Role – i.e. whether employees understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
• Change – i.e. how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organization.
The results of stress risk assessments can have far reaching implications as to the manner in which we conduct our business; reasonably practicable solutions must be sought for identified problems. These will likely comprise adjustments to methods of work, higher levels of communication and training of employees in personal stress management.
Risk assessment for stress management is not as clear cut as, for example, the use of a piece of work equipment. Different jobs can involve varying levels of stress, and individuals deal with stress in different ways; some good and some bad. It is up to employers to ensure that they have an appropriate strategy in place for managing stress that is suited to their organisation.
They must ensure that this strategy includes the education of employees with respect to their own capabilities and the natural ways in which they can stay calm and manage their daily stress.
Stress management or managing stress? Both have an equal standing in today’s workplace.
This article was written by Dr. Michael Cash PhD (Cantab) CFIOSH AIEMA, Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner, Operations Director with SSG Training and Consultancy.