Managing Stress at Work

Six Management Standards

The most recent figures available show that absence due to work related stress accounts for 39% of the total number of work related illnesses and the average time away from work is 23 days for each case. These figures also indicate that the rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, for both total and new cases, have remained broadly flat for more than ten years. However absence for work related stress presents a huge cost to an organisation and ensuring that the correct policies and procedures are in place to mitigate against this and effectively deal with issues as they arise is very important.

Legally there is no specific law about work related stress but employers have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work act to ensure the Health, Safety and Welfare of their staff and this means assessing and taking measures to control risks from work-related stress. Also under common law employers need to take reasonable care to ensure the health and safety of their employees’.

Stress can be triggered by individual or organisational factors. Individual factors include personal problems such as illness, family difficulties, bereavement or financial worries. Organisational factors can include poor communication, bad working environment and ineffective job design.

There are six Management Standards that cover key areas of work design that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health and well-being, lower productivity and increased sickness absence. In other words, the six Management Standards cover the most common sources of stress at work and define the characteristics, or culture, of an organisation. They can be used to assess whether the risks from work related stress are being effectively controlled and managed.

1. Demands: employees often become overloaded if they cannot cope with the amount of work or type of work they are asked to do.

2. Control: how much say the employee has in how and when they do their work. With no control employees can become disaffected and perform poorly.

3. Support: includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues. In addition levels of sick absence can often rise if employees feel they cannot talk to managers about issues that are troubling them.

4. Relationships: this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour if it occurs. Failure to create this atmosphere of trust and good behaviour can lead to problems related to discipline, grievances and bullying.

5. Role: It is important that employees understand their role in an organisation and that they do not have conflicting roles. If they do not know what is expected of them employees will feel anxious about their work and the organisation.

6. Change: Managing change (small or large change) effectively with good communication is essential or it can lead to huge uncertainty and insecurity.

The Management Standards demonstrate good practice through a step by step risk assessment approach and allow assessment of the current situation. They can be used to promote discussion and by working with employees in partnership help decide where practical improvements can be made. They can also be used to help simplify risk assessments for work related stress by identifying the main risk factors and help organisations focus on the underlying causes and their prevention. Finally they can provide a measure by which an organisation can judge their performance in dealing with the key causes of stress.

Where an organisation meets these standards it should be reflective of a high level of health well-being and organisational performance.