Be ready to deal with work stress

Last month’s European Health and Safety at Work Week took the theme Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress. Enterprise organisation the Forum of Private Business is urging small business owners not to ignore stress, one of the major health and safety risks in the work place. The FPB’s business advisor Jo Eccles, pictured, explained more.


STRESS is the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe. Psychosocial conditions are thought to account for more than half (50–60%) of all lost working days.

A poor psychosocial work environment can have significant negative effects on workers’ health. Jo Eccles, business advisor at the Forum of Private Business said: “A large amount of health and safety guidance tends to focus on the physical risks that small business employers need to consider in protecting their employees, but mental well-being and workplace stress remain the poor relation.
“Excessive stress can interfere with employees’ productivity and is linked with high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other issues such as more errors.
“Businesses do have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of their employees under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Stress should be treated with the same importance as any other potential health and safety risk and developing a clear procedure and policies in place to tackle the issue.”

Tips on tackling workplace stress

• Conduct a risk assessment
As with any other potential health and safety risk assessments, this will help to identify potential workplace stressors and training needs and management support needed to reduce any identified problems.

• Management training
Management training is key to ensuring that staff feel that they receive the clear direction, relevant support and training they need to reduce the likelihood of healthy pressure developing into unwanted stress. Training should include areas such as:
• Setting realistic tasks, workloads, and timescales.
• Highlighting the importance of open communication so that employees feel that they can go to speak to their managers about problems openly.
• Clearly communicating to staff that work-related stress is not a personal problem, but an issue that the company takes seriously and is keen to address.

Management training should recognise that managers are not mind readers and should receive guidance on how to monitor signs of workplace stress, such as excessively long working hours or attendance. It is also worth considering factoring questions in appraisals on how employees are coping with the pressure in performance appraisals and talking to leavers in exit interviews to establish if pressure was a deciding factor in their decision to leave.

• Send out a clear message that you take stress seriously
Any assessment and management training should also be supported with a clear stress policy that outlines the company’s acknowledgement of the potential damaging effects of workplace stress and the commitment to identify and reduce the effects.
Key elements of a policy include:
•  A clear definition of what stress is.
•  A clear statement of the what the company intends to do to reduce the risk of stress in the workplace (risk assessment, training, counselling services).
•  Defined staff responsibilities in effective stress management (line managers, employees, and HR managers).

More information is available on the Forum of Private Business’s website