As well as showing staff that your organisation plans to prevent stress, it needs to document how it will help potential sufferers
Formalising an approach to tackling stress with an occupational stress management policy is a good way to show a commitment to tackling stress in the workplace.
Vanessa Sallows, underwriting and benefits director at Legal & General, says: “A formal stress policy will show employees you are serious about protecting their health and wellbeing. As well as outlining the steps that employees can take to deal with stress it will also help to create a culture where they feel they can talk about issues relating to it.”
The Health and Safety Executive has guidelines on what should be included in a stress policy (see box on page 16) and includes a sample policy on its website (www.hse.gov.uk/stress).
Two key areas need to be covered by a stress policy. The first of these will entail the organisation setting out the steps it will take to prevent stress. “This will include reference to risk assessments and stress audits but will also include details of the training and education you will provide to managers and employees,” says Sallows.
Training is particularly important in preventing stress. This can cover a number of areas such as stress awareness in order to help employees identify symptoms of stress in themselves and others, and management training to enable managers to monitor and assess risks. For example, it may be useful to train managers to monitor workloads so employees are never over-stretched and at risk of stress.
The stress policy should also make reference to any tools that are in place that help employees look after their mental wellbeing, such as an online stress audit. Jacky Gerald, training product manager at Employee Advisory Resource, explains: “After spending a couple of minutes answering questions about how they’re feeling, the employee receives a printout giving them advice on how to improve their health and stress levels.”
As well as detailing how the organisation will prevent stress, the second key area that the policy needs to cover are the steps that will be taken if an employee is suffering from stress.
Professor Iain Densten, professor of leadership and director of the Lancaster Leadership Centre at Lancaster University, says: “Include details of feedback loops so employees know what they need to do if they’re stressed.” Where employees are directed to seek help will depend on the organisation and available resources but examples could include their line manager, human resources, a trade union representative or an employee assistance programme. It is prudent to include several options, especially as an employee may be experiencing stress as a result of the line manager they are being encouraged to approach.
It is also important to ensure that managers are trained not only on how to identify the signs of stress in employees, but also on how to approach employees who are suffering from stress. Gill Weston, consultancy services manager at Bupa, explains: “It’s not always easy for a line manager to talk to their employees about stress and what’s causing it.” In these circumstances, she says having external support can be particularly helpful. “If an employee is experiencing a personal problem and the manager feels uncomfortable about talking about it, they can provide support by referring them to an employee assistance programme or other helpline. This shows the employer cares,” she adds.
Once the policy has been formulated, it needs to be made readily available so that employees are aware of it. This could include placing it in the staff handbook, on the intranet and making reference to it in relevant training and awareness days.
Health and Safety Executive stress policy
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides a useful stress policy template to show what should be covered which is, as follows:
Introduction This sets out the reason for the policy, for example to protect employees’ health and wellbeing, as well as stating who is affected by it.
Definition of stress The HSE’s definition provides a good starting point. This is “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”.
Policy This identifies the steps the organisation will take to tackle stress in the workplace. This could include details of risk assessments, training, counselling and other resources.
Responsibilities This details the responsibilities of every party involved in tackling and dealing with stress, for instance managers, human resources, occupational health, any trade union, safety representatives and the employee. For example, this could entail stating that employees should raise any issues with their manager or occupational health division and accept counselling if they are offered it.
The HSE also recommends that the policy is signed and ratified by both the employer and an employee representative as this will add to its credibility.