Andrew Kinder: What are employers doing around stress in the workplace?

Employers could be forgiven for reacting to National Stress Awareness Day on 2 November by saying it is not a business priority and they are too busy responding to difficult trading conditions. However, given findings from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s October 2011 Absence management survey that stress is now the leading cause of sickness absence, perhaps the issue should move up the list of priorities.

There are a number of ways employers can respond to stress in the workplace and many actions they can take to make a positive difference for those affected. The situation is not helped by the fact that stress is actually quite a poorly defined concept. It is also not helped that stress does not exist from a medical point of view. So it is surprising how many times stress is written on employees’ fit notes by GPs.

The first thing an employer can do is find out exactly what the problem is. The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) stress standards and management competencies, outlined on its website, would be a good starting point.

The questions contained in the stress standards can be used freely by organisations and particular help should be given to problem teams, such as using focus groups to get them to come forward with ideas for improvement.

Putting in place and supporting an effective partnership between HR, occupational health and an employee assistance programme is also vital so support can be targeted and resources co-ordinated. Social issues as well as workplace problems can then be addressed, increasing the sense that the organisation cares and is interested in employees’ wellbeing.

– Andrew Kinder, vice-chairman of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (UK EAPA) and chief psychologist at Atos Healthcare