The HSE Management Standards for Work Related Stress.
What is stress and why do we need to tackle it?
The Stress Management Society defines stress as “a situation where demands on a person exceed that person’s resources or ability to cope”.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as “the reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed on them”.
The HSE says there is a convincing link between stress and ill health. Its recent research showed that over 13.5 million work days were lost to stress in the UK in 2007 / 2008, costing society £4 billion each year.
Other findings were:
- 11% of absence is attributed to stress
- 52% say stress is increasing
- 60% say stress is damaging staff retention
- 83% think stress is harming productivity.
Too much stress can cause illnesses such as heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers and depression. It can cause accidents, skin disease, alcohol and drug abuse, violence and family tensions and breakdowns. Stressed workers are also less productive and more prone to errors.
In Europe, nearly one in three workers (more than 40 million workers) claim that they are adversely affected by stress in the workplace.
The Institute of Management estimate that 270,000 people take time off work because of stress, which costs British companies around £538 per employee.
Tackling work related stress – the legal case.
Whilst there is no specific law on stress, employers do have legal duties to reduce the risk of stress to an acceptable level. The laws that apply are:
Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974:
“It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”.
Regulation 3 (1) (a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999:
“Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of … the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work.”
Paragraph 80 of the accompanying Code of Practice:
“When allocating work to employees, employers should ensure that the demands of the job do not exceed the employee’s ability to carry out the work without risk to themselves or others.”
The business case
Tackling stress brings business benefits. Research has shown work related stress to have adverse effects for organisations in terms of employee commitment, performance and productivity, turnover of staff, attendance and potential litigation.
The moral case
As already stated, the HSE says that there is now convincing evidence that work related stress has an adverse effect on health, with links between stress, and physical and psychological effects.
The Management Standards for Tackling Work Related Stress
The HSE has designed the standards approach to help employees manage the causes of work related stress. Organisations are now expected to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for stress, and to take action to tackle any problems identified by that risk assessment.
By taking action to tackle the causes of stress in the workplace, the problems highlighted above can be prevented. Tackling the causes of stress can also prevent ill health.
The management standards approach requires managers, employees and their representatives to work together to improve certain areas (6) of work, which will have a positive effect on employee well-being.
The six management standards cover:
- Demands – workload, problems and environment
- Control – how much say a person has in the way they work
- Support – encouragement and resources provided
- Role – Do people understand the role
- Change – how organisational change is managed
- Relationships – avoiding conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
For each of these areas, the HSE gives a state which employers should aim to achieve. These are:
- Demands – Employees indicate that they are able to cope with their jobs.
- Control – Employees indicate that they are able to have a say about the way they do their work.
- Support – Employees indicate that they receive adequate information and support from their colleagues and superiors.
- Role – Employees indicate that they understand the role and responsibilities.
- Change – Employees indicate that the organisation engages them frequently when undergoing an organisational change.
- Relationships – Employees indicate that they are not subjected to unacceptable behaviour; e.g. Bullying at work.
Perhaps the best tool available from the HSE is the Indicator Tool. It is a 35 question survey, and all questions relate to the six primary stressors identified above (The Management Standards). It has been designed to support the process by allowing the workforce to rate how the organisation performs in managing the risks associated with work related stress.
The HSE suggests that companies can, if they choose to, use the Indicator Tool as a stand alone measuring device, and I guess many companies will do just that, using it as a box ticking exercise; when in fact analysing the findings, together with other data such as sickness absence rates, employee turnover, and accident data will provide much more information to work with.
The HSE also provides a Competency Indicator Tool, designed to allow managers or other responsible people in an organisation to assess whether behaviours identified as effective for preventing and reducing stress at work are part of the managers repertoire or not. The aim is to encourage managers to self assess their own behaviour and management style.
Together with the Indicator Tool,this is the most important part of the management standards approach. The Competency Indicator Tool is a comprehensive analysis, questioning a managers own integrity, approach, how they manage emotions, problem solving skills, communication skills, and reasoning skills. A percentage score is calculated at the end of the survey, and advice is given for highlighted areas in which development is needed. The survey will clearly show which behaviours could be used more often in the future in order to be more effective at preventing and reducing stress in the manager’s team.
The HSE website has some useful case studies of other companies (private and public sector) and how they have dealt with stress. Some of the cases demonstrate that companies are merely ticking boxes; some have excelled and have really made stress management a priority for their business or organisation. The HSE makes no distinction between the good and bad case studies, and careful consideration should be given before applying any of these case studies to a work situation.
See the HSE website for more details : http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/index.htm