Stress at work
Don't give up - we can tackle stress! Find out how.
Stress, stigma and solutions
Following the success of our March mental health workshop with Alan Bradshaw of Work-Life Solutions, we are delighted to bring you Alan's 10 Best Tools for Preventing Stress at Work.
We particularly like the way Alan looks at stress through the following four key areas as this helps consider the stage an organisation may have reached in stress management:
- Awareness – the level of management awareness about work-related stress and the associated risks
- Preventing stress – management actions, skills and behaviours known to help prevent stress at work
- Monitoring stress – actions that enable early identification of stress problems at work
- Responding to stress problems – how managers respond once stress problems have been identified
A link to the presentations from the event is provided at the bottom of this page under 'stress resources'. Click here for our overview of Prospect work on stress and stigma.
Click the poster picture or here to download our stress, stigma, solutions poster to display in your workplace.
Key information, resources and action you can take
- what is stress?
- why is it such a big issue?
- how do we tackle work-related stress?
- what are the stress management standards?
- implementing the stress management standards approach
- what can I do as a Prospect rep?
- my physical and mental health
- stress personal injury claims
- stress training for Prospect reps
- stress - additional resources
The HSE defines it as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them.” People experience stress when they perceive an imbalance between the demands made of them and the resources they have available to cope with those demands.
There is a clear distinction between pressure, which can create a ‘buzz’ and be a motivator, and stress, which becomes a risk to safety and health when it is protracted. This is because stress is associated with mental and physcial ill-health including depression, anxiety and heart disease. Stress can also lead to people making mistakes (human error), with an increased likelihood of accidents.
◊ HSE has useful information and a bodymap on signs and symptoms.
Stress can affect anyone and undermines the health and safety of individuals, the health of organisations and the health of the national economy. More and more people are affected by work-related stress essentially because of poorly-managed organisational change leading to:
- poor work design & organisation
- precarious contracts
- job insecurity
- increases in the intensity and pace of work
- high emotional demands being made of workers
- violence and psychological harassment
- poor work-life balance.
Besides the moral and legal reasons for tackling stress, there is an obvious business case for tackling stress in terms of the cost to UK plc of working days lost and health care provision.
Still struggling with the business case? NICE has produced a Costing Tool for promoting mental wellbeing at work which helps organisations assess the costs of mental ill-health for their workforce and estimate potential savings.
Tackling work-related stress isn't easy. However, the law and standards are forever developing, providing employers and unions with more and more information on what workers may expect.
Various branches of the law impose obligations on employers to reduce the likelihood of their employees suffering a stress-related illness; and requires employers to treat employees affected by stress in specific ways. The main, preventive law is the criminal law enforced by HSE and Local Authority inspectors.
The Health and Safety at Work Act requires employers to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure employees do not suffer stress-related illnesses as a result of their work.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require employers to assess the risks to employees’ psychiatric health caused by work-related stress. Where the assessment highlights risks, they must take reasonable steps to limit these and ongoing monitoring. The Working Time Regulations may also apply. Long working hours and night working pose an increased risk to health and safety. The Regulations impose limits and require employees to be offered free health assessments before they are assigned to night work.
HSE has produced management standards and guidelines on work-related stress for employers, employees and their representatives.
The Standards look at the six key areas of work that, if properly managed, can help to reduce work-related stress. They provide simple statements about good management practice in each area:
- Demands – eg workload, work patterns and the work environment
- Control – how much say you have in the way you do your work
- Support – the encouragement and resources provided by your employer, line management and colleagues
- Relationships – eg promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
- Role – being clear about your role and avoiding conflicting roles
- Change – how organisational change is managed and communicated in the organisation.
HSE does not expect every employer to meet all the standards at their first attempt. The standards are goals that employers should be working towards through an ongoing process of risk assessment, worker involvement and continuous improvement.
What about justice?
The Health and Safety Working Group of the European Social dialogue Committee for Telecommunications, with the support of the European Commission, engaged researchers to examine the scientific literature relating to mental health at work and the policies and practices of a selection of European Telecommunications companies chosen to be representative of different sizes and geographical coverage.
The "Good Work, Good Health: good practice guidelines" they developed together highlight the importance of perceived justice, particularly at times of change. This guidance is excellent and likely to be of great help to reps and their employers alike.
Successful implementation requires:
- leadership, commitment and involvement - senior management commitment and worker involvement are necessary throughout the process for staff to be willing to take part. Ideally, the process should be championed by a senior manager.
- effective communications - a carefully considered communications plan is required, setting out recognition of the problem and a commitment to making improvements. Two-way communications is essential, so it is vital H&S reps are engaged throughout.
- risk assessment - and patience. This is not something that can be done overnight. It's more about project management, requiring a project champion, plan and steering group.
- intelligence - gathering information and data, such as staff turnover, sickness absenteeism, performance appraisals, exit interviews and staff surveys (the list is not exhaustive).
Further guidance can be found in:
- HSE's stress web pages including guidance for individuals/employees. These provide extensive information with case studies and links to free leaflets. Your employer should purchase the priced publications and make them available to Prospect H&S reps.
- "Taking care of business: employers' guide to mentally healthy workplaces" by MIND
- "Mental wellbeing" HSE Northern Ireland guide for employers
There are different ways you can act depending on whether you are pushing for stress management, gathering evidence of a perceived problem or trying to support an individual member.
- Proactive stress management - you can use the information above on the law, HSE management standards and the business case to seek to influence your employer to introduce measures. With Prospect's support you can then help your employer, because organisations can't succeed without the help of their reps.
- Tackling stress - if your employer is ignoring a problem, you'll need evidence. You might need to start by raising awareness amongst your members. You could encourage members to read the next section on My Health. If you think long hours are becoming a problem, get them to try the long-hours quiz linked below or organise a WorkTime YourTime campaign. If you want to measure the size of the problem amongst constituents, try mapping techniques. These are explained in our bodymapping factcard and our bodymapping podcasts. If you are a H&S Rep, remember your employer has a duty to release information on accidents, ill health and any trends. Don't miss out on this.
- Promoting positive mental health - Prospect H&S and Equalities work together to seek to destigmatise mental health. The Time to Change campaign (see below) and ACAS guidance are key resources. ACAS worked with Mindful Employer, which has published a line manager's resource for managing mental health at work. This may be of interest to your employer, so refer them to www.mindfulemployer.net
- Signposting members - suggest they explore 'My physical and mental health' below which provides a portal to a range of self-help information and support. GIve them our Stress do's and don'ts guidance.
- Supporting members - you may wish to use the TUC guidance on representing and supporting members with mental health problems.
- Referring members - know what your employer offers, as they may have counsellors and occupational health services to whom you or your member can turn for support. Good employers have fast-track help and some have mental health first aiders. Others have started to introduce 'mental health passports' or 'WRAP' systems so that individuals don't have to repeat difficult conversations with their line manager each time they are moved or their management changes. For more on mental health first aid see: MHFA England MHFA Wales MHFA Scotland MHFA NI
- Workplace adjustments - Prospect helped develop Dept Health advice for employers on workplace adjustments for mental health
Prospect has produced a series of podcasts to help you look after your own stress.
- Worried and want to know stress signs and symptoms, HSE's interactive chart shows them for men and women.
- Not sure if long working hours are the problem, this 2 minute long-hours quiz provides instant feedback.
- Recognising that you may have a mental health problem and taking the first step to getting help can be difficult and may require courage.
- It is important to remember that you are not alone. One in four people experience some kind of mental health problem. There are people you can talk to. One of the best websites we have found that is full of helpful information is Work and Mental Health provided by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who are committed to improving the lives of people with stress and mental ill health.
- You can help yourself regain control of your life with this Keeping Well Workbook
- If you need urgent help you can call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or you can email them.
Tell someone you trust
- You may find it helpful to talk to your partner, a relative or a friend about your problems. They may be concerned about you and welcome the opportunity to hear what you have to say.
- If this is not possible, you may prefer to talk to someone else you can trust, like your Prospect representative. They may be able to signpost you to further support or help you to explore options to tackle your situation. However, reps are not counsellors and have limited resources. It is for the employer to provide appropriate staff support.
- You may find your GP a help. If you have a good relationship with your doctor, you may find it helpful just to know there is someone you can talk to about the feelings you are having. Your GP may refer you to specialist services if he/she feels they will help you.
- Good advice on who to talk to and how is provided by the Royal College of Psychiatrists site Work & Mental Health. The RCP also provides readable, user friendly and accurate leaflets on keyfacts of common mental health problems including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder
Contact a key organisation (Mind, Sane, Rethink & Sainsbury Centre) who offer helplines and local services for people affected by mental health problems. Other useful organisations include:
- CIPD - guidance on managing work stress
- Prospect disability webpage
- Shift - combats stigma and provides advice for employers
- Direct Gov - rights at work if disabled by mental ill health
- Minding Your Head - info for those worried about poor mental health
- MindWise - support & challenges stigma
- Work Life Balance Centre - helps those whose lives feel out of control, has interactive aids
- Time to change - combats mental health discrimination
- Cruse bereavement care
- Parents advice centre
- Relate - marriage guidance & relationship therapy
Alert! Members and reps should note that personal injury claims for stress are extremely difficult to prove. If however you do wish to pursue a claim, the starting point is completing an occupational stress form via the Prospect personal injury scheme. Each case is assessed on its individual merits. Regard is given to the case law.
Case Law: It is important to appreciate that most work is pressurised from time to time, to some degree. Unless a claim is based on the Harassment Act, for a claim to stand a chance of success the following criteria must be met:
- Condition - there must be a recognised psychiatric injury, typically depression or a nervous breakdown.
- Causation – the stress is caused by employment factors not problems at home such as divorce or bereavement.
- Foreseeability - this is key: an employer is entitled to assume that an employee can cope with the normal pressures of a job unless the employer knows something specific about the job or the individual concerned that should make it consider the risk of psychiatric injury. The employer is not obliged to make intrusive enquiries and is entitled to take what it is told by the employee at face value. However the employer is expected to keep abreast of the developing knowledge on stress and not be too slow to apply it.
- Negligence – the injury is the employer’s fault. For instance doubling the workload without additional support/resources could constitute a failure in duty of care.
Putting this simply:
- employees are responsible for raising their health concerns, in effect giving notice that they are suffering or feeling ill. Without this a personal injury claim is likely to fail. If you think you are stressed, tell your employer or permit your rep to tell your employer. It's your call!
- employees don't have to be forceful in their complaints because at the time they may be ill. Hence reps can help, for instance by making representations, confirming in writing/email to provide an evidence trail. The point is it is essential that there is sufficient indication of impending harm to health arising from stress at work which is plain for any reasonable employer to realise in order to trigger a duty on the employer to do something about it.
- Employers then have a duty to take reasonable steps to try to resolve a known stressor an employee is experiencing, irrespective of whether the source of stress is at work or home. Again, reps can assist.
Prospect covers all of the above in Members' Guide 8: work-related stress.
In addition to the many resources provided via links on this page, the following guides and presentations are available:
- Prospect Members' Guide 8: work-related stress - pdf available here but please note this needs updating to take account of changes in Equalities law. Hard copies out of stock - awaiting revision.
- TUC guidance on representing and supporting members with mental health problems.
- Work-related stress: what the law says 2010 guide by CIPD/ACAS/HSE
- stress and the role of the unions presentation for reps' use
- stress and the law presentation for reps' use
- body and workplace mapping factcard
- body and workplace mapping podcasts (there are 3 lasting a total of about 10 mins)
- Stress, Stigma & Solutions - event presentation
If you have any comments or suggestions for improving the webpages and resources, please email them to SafetyReps@prospect.org.uk