Stress at Work
How can I meet my legal responsibilities regarding staff stress and improve staff efficiency?
When employers’ health and safety obligations extends to the state of the minds of staff, it is perhaps understandable that even those managers less cynical about health & safety compliance find themselves reaching towards heaven in what is likely to be a futile gesture begging divine intervention. In reality however, effective management of stress at work not only meets legal requirements but also represents an opportunity to review people-management skills such as staff motivation, job fulfilment, management support and reduction of time lost due to ill health.
Stress results from a disparity between demands placed on individuals and their ability to cope. The consequence can be a wide range of physical and psychological problems with the potential to destroy lives and undermine the profitability of a business.
At the heart of compliance lies the need to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. The assessment should be thorough, and the results appropriately communicated and addressed.
The HSE estimates that over 6.5 million working days are lost in Britain every year due to stress-related illness. Research indicates that a vast range of physical conditions may be aggravated by stress, from alcoholism to high blood pressure and heart disease. Psychological consequences of mental overload include loss of concentration, anxiety, depression, and in severe cases even suicide.
The issue is made more complex as it results from the interaction of both work-based factors and also those that are personal and sometimes unique to the individual. There are currently considered to be nine general categories of work-related stress. Addressing these factors effectively is not only a critical component of a safety management system but can dramatically increase productivity and reduce costly overheads.
A positive culture exists where open communication between employer and employee is encouraged. Staff should be confident that there is an atmosphere of trust in which concerns will be investigated, treated objectively and with respect.
Sufficient resources should be allocated to ensure that work tasks as defined by job descriptions can be completed within reasonable timescales and according to agreed priorities.
If employees are given a say in how their work is carried out, their personal self esteem will be significantly enhanced, they will be happier, opportunities to complain will be minimised and there will be a marked tendency towards personal accountability.
Clearly the way people relate to each other at work is likely to prove a major influence on their feelings. However in contrast with many aspects of personal life employees can expect less choice over whose company they share. Positive codes of behaviour should be encouraged and policies governing bullying and harassment enforced.
Management of change is a skill in itself as businesses settles into a faster post-millennium pace. Wherever possible employees should be asked for input regarding this process and provided with an appropriate degree of support.
Job descriptions should be clear, concise and contain clear details regarding content, reporting responsibilities and objectives. Questions to address any uncertainties should be encouraged and addressed.
This vital aspect of people management should be given the attention it deserves. Task delegation should be treated with care. Staff should be constantly encouraged, motivated, and two-way feedback provided. Correct, well maintained and safe tools and equipment should be provided to enable tasks to be completed to a high standard.
Training provision sits at the heart of any good safety management system and clearly has a vital role to play in any organisation’s safety management system, particularly at the induction stage. Job competence leads to a confident workforce with high standards.
9. Individual factors
Managers must recognise that staff are individuals, each with unique feelings, skills, personal qualities and lives both in and out of work. Whilst there are clearly limitations on the extent to which employers can and should become involved in personal lives, factors such as person / job fit are frequently not given the attention they deserve.