Charity BackRoom Chartered MCIPD HR Consultants talk about Stress in the Workplace

Kate Willcox Chartered MCIPD-Charity BackRoom

Focus on..... Stress at Work

New figures from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development show that for the very first time stress is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence for both manual and non-manual workers.

Definition of Stress: "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work"

The causes and triggers of stress have always been present in the workplace and employers have a duty under health and safety legislation to assess and take measures to control risks from work-related stress. Also under common law employers need to take reasonable care to ensure the health and safety of their employees.

Stress affects people in different ways and what one person finds stressful can be normal or indeed a positive challenge to another. With each new situation a person will decide what the challenge is and whether they have the resources to cope. How they deal with the situation will depend of various factors including:

 their background and culture

 their skills and experience

 their personality

 their personal circumstances

 their health status

 their ethnicity, gender, age or disability

 other demands both in and outside work

Stress is not an illness in itself, it is a state. However, if stress becomes too excessive and prolonged, mental and physical illness may develop. Undiagnosed symptoms of stress can, in the long term, cause serious medical issues, including heart disease, back pain and gastrointestinal illnesses. In some cases there are clear signs that people are experiencing stress at work and action can be taken before the pressure becomes a problem. Stress can show itself in different ways:

In the individual:

Emotional symptoms:

 Negative or depressed feelings

 Increased emotional reactions, more tearful, sensitive or aggressive

 Loneliness or withdrawal from socialisation

 Loss of motivation, commitment and confidence

 Mood swings (not behavioural)

Mental symptoms:

 Confusion, indecision

 Inability to concentrate

 Poor memory

Changes in normal behaviour:

 Changes in eating habits

 Increased smoking, drinking or drug taking to ‘cope’

 Mood swings affecting behaviour

 Changes in sleep patterns leading to increased fatigue

 Twitchy, nervous behaviour

 Changes in attendance such as arriving later or taking more time off

In the group:

 Disputes and disaffection within the group

 Increased staff turnover

 Increase in complaints and grievances

 Increased sickness absence

 Increased reports of stress

 Difficulty in attracting new staff

 Poor performance

 Customer dissatisfaction or increased complaints

What causes stress?

Stress can be triggered by organisational or individual factors. Organisational factors include poor communication, poor working environments, ineffective job design and lack of control. Individual factors include personal problems such as bereavement, money worries or illness.

Work related stress can be caused when there is a mismatch between job requirements and the individual’s abilities, resources or needs:-

Demands: employees become overloaded by the amount of work or type of work.

Control: employees have no say over how and when they do their work.

Support: lack of support from managers leads to increased absenteeism.

Relationships: poor work relationships leads to increased performance/conduct issues.

Role: lack of understanding of role leads to employees’ increased anxiety.

Change: poor change management leads to uncertainty and insecurity.

Line Managers play a vital role in the identification and management of stress within an organisation and can systematically address the above issues by looking at:

Demands: pay attention to the way jobs are designed, training needs and whether it is possible for employees to work more flexible hours. 3

Control: allow employees and teams to be actively involved in decision making, including reviewing performance to identify strengths and weaknesses.

Support: give employees the opportunity to talk about their issues through regular support and supervision sessions.

Relationships: check policies on managing grievances, capability, disciplinary and for dealing with bullying and harassment. Ensure staff are aware of policies and that line managers are trained to recognise potential problems and address them at an early stage.

Role: review the induction process, ensure accurate job descriptions and review annually at appraisal time, and assess individual targets against organisational goals.

Change: plan ahead and consult with affected employees so that they feel empowered to deal with change.

Where does the responsibility lie for dealing with work related stress?

All employers have legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness or injury to employees.

At Board level, Trustees or CEOs/Directors need to decide how they will monitor factors such as rates of absenteeism, staff turnover, poor performance and conflict that might suggest a problem with stress-related illness. They must ensure there is a health and safety policy in place and ensure effective risk assessments are being carried out, in line with a stress management strategy.

Senior Management, HR and H&S Managers, have an important role in assisting employers to proactively address work related stress which may include considering appropriate line manager training, undertaking risk assessments and feeding back any wider concerns about risks to health from stress at work to Board level.

Line Managers, have a vital role in assessing employees to proactively address work related stress and reporting their concerns to senior management whilst maintaining any obligations of confidentiality. They are likely to see the problems caused by stress first hand and will be in the best position to notice changes in staff behaviour and will often be the first point of contact when an individual feels stressed. Managers also need to think about their own behaviours and how it can either add to or alleviate the problem. Management behaviour is often highlighted as a major factor by those suffering from work related stress.

Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and of others who may be affected by their actions. 4

What are the benefits of good stress management to the individual, team and organisation?

Economic benefits:

 Lower risks of litigation – because the organisation complies with legal duties

 Improved return on investment in training and development

 Improved customer care and relationships with clients

 Reduced costs of sick pay, sickness cover and recruitment

Benefits for individuals:

 Employees feel more motivated and committed to their work

 Morale is high

 People work harder and perform better

 People feel they are part of a team and the decision making process

 Relationships with managers and within teams are better

 People are happy in their work which leads to reduced absence

 Line managers can show their duty of care

 Line managers can demonstrate good management skills

Management benefits:

 Reduced staff turnover

 Better absence management

 Fewer days lost to sickness and absenteeism

 Improved work quality

 Improved organisational image and reputation

 Better staff understanding and tolerance of others experiencing problems

How Charity Backroom HR can help.

Our CIPD qualified HR Consultants are experienced in advising clients on all aspects of HR management and in negotiating potential problems before they arise.

The services we can provide include:

 One-to-one advice & support, covering all areas of HR Implementation including Performance Management, TUPE, Redundancy, Restructure, Contracts of employment and Induction – by telephone and face to face.

 Employment Law advice from a qualified Employment Lawyer.

 Template and bespoke letters, policies and documents.

 Line Manager Training.

 Policy Review.

For more information about Charity Backroom’s HR Contract and Consultancy Service, for the not-for-profit sector or for SME's nationwide,  contact Paul Stephen, Business Development Officer at Charity BackRoom, on 01603-756726 or email

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