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Managing stress

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A certain amount of pressure helps people to achieve their best, but too much stress can be damaging to long-term health and can lead to lower productivity and higher sickness absence.

Stress is one of the major reasons for workplace absence. The Fit for Work website reports that at any one time, one worker in six may be experiencing depression, anxiety or problems relating to stress.

One of your responsibilities as an employer is to ensure that work is not overly stressful.

If your employee is more vulnerable to physical or psychological risk because of an illness, injury or disability, you have an extra responsibility to protect them.

The starting point

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) comments that:

Good people management is the starting point for effective prevention of stress. We believe that people work more effectively within a participative management style and are better motivated when work satisfies economic, social and psychological needs. Employers that pay attention to job design and work organisation and equip all managers with people management skills will better support employee engagement and well-being.

See the CIPD stress factsheet for more information.

Measuring and analysing stress in your organisation

To find out whether stress is a problem in your organisation, you could undertake a stress audit. This involves talking to staff about their jobs and gaining an understanding from them as to: what they find stressful and why; and what they do not find stressful and why. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) management standards for stress can form the basis of the audit. The standards are:

  • demands – includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
  • control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
  • support –  includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
  • relationships –  includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
  • role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
  • change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated.

In a smaller organisation, you will be able to spot signs of stress in individual employees. See GOV.UK’s information on the signs and symptoms of stress.

A template return to work questionnaire (pdf, 44KB) from the HSE may be useful as a discussion point with employees on the causes of their stress and possible actions.

Tackling the causes of workplace stress

If you have identified that stress is a problem in your organisation, the next step is to tackle the causes. This may seem difficult in charities where high workload is an everyday reality, but drilling down to the actual reasons for stress can reveal some practical and straightforward actions that can be taken.

The Acas advisory booklet on stress (pdf, 583KB) contains a number of practical actions that employers can take - see pages 8 and 9.

Providing support when an employee is stressed

Support for employees could include counselling, stress-management training or referral to self-help resources.

Managing stress policy

The HSE has a free example stress policy (pdf, 41KB). NCVO members can download an editable managing stress policy.

Dealing with personal stress

Guidance on dealing with personal stress is available on the HSE website.

Wellbeing initiatives

Wellbeing initiatives aim to proactively maximise employee wellbeing, which in turn will avoid stress arising in the first place. See Wellbeing at work.

Further information

Page last edited Dec 07, 2018

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