Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. It can place immense demands on workers’ physical and mental health and affect their behaviour, performance and relationships with colleagues.
So how can any organisation demonstrate management commitment to preventing and managing stress? With more practical content for Stress Awareness Month, IOSH’s Michael Edwards has some top tips.
1. Develop a stress policy
This outlines the high-level commitment from an organisation’s board and its expectations of management and workers. This policy needs to achieve a balance between being aspirational and realistic. It provides a starting point for the management of stress, from which you can develop your stress strategy and arrangements.
2. Set your stress prevention and management objectives, then establish a strategy, key performance indicators (KPIs) and programme of initiatives
Where the stress policy sets the expectations of the organisation, objectives start to develop these expectations into quantifiable activities, known as initiatives or interventions that the organisation needs to undertake to meet these expectations. It is important you also develop a strategy for planning how these initiatives will be measured against the objectives.
You can use KPIs as metrics to see if you have delivered against the objectives set. The strategy will also need to set out the roles and responsibilities of people throughout the organisation in order to make each initiative a success.
3. Build a schedule of promotional activities and events to raise and/or maintain awareness of stress in the workplace
This can take the form of stress information being made available in inductions, training and development programmes and workshops. You can use this training to get the board, management and workers to understand their commitment to the management of stress and develop themselves as role models for the organisation.
4. In conjunction with line management, document timely, risk-based plans for worker stress assessments
With stress being based on both internal and external factors, the development of these plans and assessments can be either proactive or reactive. You can use proactive assessments to reduce the likelihood of stress occurring in the first place, by assessing the risk of activities within your control. This includes workers’ workload, manager expectations, time management and the achievability of contract deliverables.
You can also undertake reactive assessments for workers already exhibiting stress, assessing what support and adjustments need to be made to alleviate the source of the stress and to help reintegrate workers who are returning to work after sickness/absence.
5. Record, review and report on stress-related sickness absence and outcomes from objective-based initiatives
You can use statistics on stress-related sickness absence as a lagging indicator to measure against stress management objectives in your organisation. They can help give you an indication of whether activities or initiatives that have been put in place to support the stress policy are successful, or not.
You should report the outcome of stress initiatives back to the board. Were they a success? What did the organisation learn from them? Were there things that could have been done better? This will allow the board to understand if more can be done to manage stress proactively, or whether it becomes a business-as-usual activity.