Ann McCracken: What are employers doing around stress in the workplace?

In our experience at the International Stress Management Association, the response to work-related stress is more reactive than proactive.

Some employers are introducing intranet-programmes, running optional stress awareness sessions, open days focusing on wellbeing, and providing massage, physiotherapy and even peer supporters. This may encourage staff to change stress-inducing habits and enable a few to identify the difference between life pressure and ill health.

In 1999, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) required all employers with five or more staff to carry out risk assessments, including an assessment for stress. Some large employers have initiated this procedure, which takes about 18 months and includes an extensive audit of staff, focus groups and action plans. There is still a lot of confusion over this process.

In 2004, management standards were introduced that identified six risk factors in the workplace and placed the responsibility of managing work-related stress on managers. My experience is that health and safety, some occupational health and some HR managers are aware of these standards, but there has been limited roll-out of training to middle managers to use this process proactively.

This year, the British Standards Institute presented a new standard for proactive psychosocial risk management which identifies best practice of how senior managers can initiate and oversee risk assessment. This has been agreed with the HSE, the World Health Organisation and other global bodies.

Further standards are in preparation for managers and third-party providers.

– Ann McCracken, chair of the International Stress Management Association and director of AMC2