Reducing the Risk of Stress in the Workplace
The HSE recently published 'Stress-related and Psychological Disorders in Great Britain 2014'. 39% of the total work-related illnesses, were due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. That is a staggering 11.3 million days during 2013/14.
Patients reported to GPs that the main causes of work-related stress, depression or anxiety are:
- Workload pressures including scheduling, shift work and other organisational factors
- Interpersonal relationships including difficulties with superiors and bullying or harassment
- Changes at work including reduction of resource or staff and additional responsibilities.
Identifying the themes
Factors intrinsic to the job made up around 36% of cases of work related stress. This could include
Hours worked, times worked, skills needed for the job, transport to and from work, salary, additional responsibilities, new role, appropriate breaks, type of work, etc.
Interpersonal relationships accounted for around 23% of cases. This could include peer group, superiors, bullying, harassment, exclusion, etc
Changes at work caused approximately 12% of work-related stress absences. This could include expansion, down-sizing, altering the type of work undertaken, additional responsibilities, new role, etc
Personal development was perceived by patients and GPs to be 8% of work-place stress absences.
Home-work interface was responsible for 6% of work-place stress related absences. This could include duration of shift, time/day of shift, access to family/friends, finances/expenses, etc.
Traumatic Events saw approximately 4% of cases of work-place stress related absences.
What you can do
When considering causes of stress in the workplace, employers can take action to reduce the risk of staff being absent from work. Being proactive can save time and money, though it may take some investment initially - 'speculate to accumulate'. Some themes are easier to resolve than others and some resolutions span more than one issue.
Let's look at some basic 'employee expectations' and some 'nice to do', which may give an employer confidence that his workforce are content:
A working environment can have a positive or negative impact on members of staff. As far as is practicable, an employee is required, by law, to provide a safe and decent environment for all employees.
- Safety - It is everyones responsibility to keep their work environment safe, but visible reminders are a good way of encouraging a team approach e.g. 'Safety shoes must be worn in this area'.
- Cleanliness - encourage everyone to keep themselves and their area clean e.g 'Wash hands after use', 'Did you clean your work area?'
- Security - Almost everyone takes personal belongings into work, but is there anywhere to store their items? Is it needed? What about protecting their personal data, is it restricted and held in a restricted area? It should be
- Comfortable - Is your area aesthetically pleasing, do you have soft furnishings in the rest room, do you even have a rest room?
- Parking - Do you have an appropriate car park? Is it free? If you don't supply a car park, how about encouraging 'car-sharing', or a map of car parks local to your business, or information regarding public transport.
- Facilities - Do you supply appropriate toilet facilities, refreshment facilities? Do you have a staff canteen? If you are a small business, even a table set aside specifically for staff breaks can have a positive impact. What comfort breaks do you offer?
- Salary - do you pay a fair wage for a fair days work? Do you have any reward schemes? Do you have annual pay reviews?
Any employer will expect a job specification that actually reflects what they are being paid to do. An employer should provide one that is SMART:
- Specific - The more information you put into a job description, the better your employee will understand what needs to be achieved. This is HOW a job is done
- Measurable - How will you and your employee measure success? Particularly important when there is no physical 'product' to show at the end of the day. You need to stipulate WHAT you want them to do e.g. a receptionist may be required to answer the telephone within 30 seconds of it ringing, but if you don't mention that in the job specification, how would one know?
- Achieveable - There is nothing worse than setting a member of staff up to fall at the first hurdle by setting unachievable tasks, e.g. If you are asking an apprentice to have the same output as an experienced member of staff, they will be unlikely to achieve it. This will have a negative impact on them and probably knock their confidence.
- Realistic - Make sure that whatever you set is actually achievable. It's hopeless asking someone to fold a piece of paper 8 times, when it is physically impossible to do. That is unrealistic and cannot be done.
- Timebound - This can be key to having an effective workforce who has a good output. Whether it is a 'time and motion' type requirement e.g. produce one completed pullover per three days, or project-type timelines e.g. 'refurbish my office by 17th September', if a member of staff knows what they are working towards, it helps them to keep focussed.
- Workplace skills - It can be quite debilitating for a member of staff who feels that they are not equipped to carry out their job properly. Not only can this leave them feeling inadequate, but it could lead to derision from their peers and so lead to a fragmented workforce.
- Induction - It can be invaluable allowing a new member of staff an induction period. This should enable them to familiarise themselves with the environment, specific tasks and specific people. A good induction period should include 'orientation', time to meet managers and 'the team', as well as receive some 'tailored to their needs' training.
- Needs analysis - In order to understand what your workforce needs, a needs analysis can be really useful. It doesn't need to be technical, but does need to have anything that you require your staff to know and do e.g. a plastics factory may want to know what specific plastics technical course somebody has had. In addition, they may want to know who has had H&S NEEBOSH training and first aid training, due to the work environment.
- Training Courses - Providing training to staff can really boost their confidence and make then happier in their work. It is also a great leveller, as everybody will be working to the same standards.
- Refresher Training - If you work in a fast moving environment, it may be necessary to refresh or 'upskill' workers.
- Mentoring - Providing a new member of staff with a mentor can have a positive effect on the whole workforce, as it encourages a 'family' feel. At the very least, you are giving the new employee the opportunity to glean support from an experienced member of staff.
- Shadowing - As with mentoring, shadowing can have a good impact and may6 allow someone to settle into the company more quickly and without so many hitches.
Fostering Positive Relationships
A workforce is usually the biggest resource available to an employer. It really is wise to promote positive interactions between all staff. This is not always easy, as people are different, with varying political, religious and ethical views. However, there are some actions that could have a desirable effect on encouraging people to 'get along'
- Acceptable behaviour and practices - You should display your staff policies so that people know what will and will not be tolerated in your work environment e.g. Equality statements, Anti- Bullying policy, Harassment policy, dress code, etc
- Managers - The best relationships are those where the manager is accessible and approachable to staff. Knowing your staff displays a caring side and also has the added advantage of realising their potential or limitations. Some managers have an 'open door' policy, whilst others have set periods for staff interviews. Listening is key to achieving a solid, positive relationship with staff.
- Workforce input - Things that may help bond your workforce are conducting 3600 assessments, team building activities, focus groups, themed 'awareness' training e.g. race relations, disability, transgender, anti-bullying, etc.
- Work/Life balance - Some people find it difficult to achieve a healthy balance between work and home. Often they feel powerless to 'please' anybody and it seems that there is no solution. However, employers may be able to assist with 'tweaking the balance', to please everyone concerned.
- Hours/Times worked - If a task is not bound by a certain time of the day, or day of the week, it may be possible to tweak hours and days to suit the employee. If agreed, it may improve the mental health of the member of staff and could positively affect the output of too!
- Reduced hours - If someone is struggling to work the agreed hours, an employer may liaise with the employee to reduce the amount of hours. This could be a temporary or permanent arrangement, dependent of the needs of both employee and employer.
- Job share - This is a good option in some workplaces and can boost morale. Providing both parties are happy to share the work and the employer is confident that they are working to a good standard, it could be a long term solution for all parties. Please note that there may be some additional 'on costs' with this.
- Temporary absence - There are many reasons for a person suffering work-related stress. Occasionally, a period of temporary absence may prevent someone getting to the stage where they will have to 'go sick'. If an employee asks for a temporary absence, it is important for the employer to understand why. A temporary absence should not be used instead of sick absence, but could be used as a breathing space for someone e.g. Two members of your workforce have had a disagreement. You may allow a couple of days paid or unpaid absence to allow them to reflect, prior to mediation.
This could include expansion, down-sizing, altering the type of work undertaken, additional responsibilities, new role, etc. Managing change effectively can be the difference between the business succeeding or not. Managing staff through the change is paramount if you want to keep them on board. Please see our guide to 'Change Management'.
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