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Stress

Stress 

With effective management and staff engagement, work stress can be prevented and managed. You can find out how.

  • I feel stressed and need help 
  • I'm keen to ensure stress is taken seriously in my workplace....this page is for you  

Stress? Let's talk

Prospect members say stress is their No.1 health concern.

The evidence suggests we need more employers to:

  • effectively manage stress through proactive initiatives
  • understand the costs of stress absence and presenteeism
  • recognise the need to talk about mental health and pledge to Time to Change 
  • engage in our solutions-based approach: stress, stigma & solutions.

Stress, stigma, solutions 

It is hard to discuss stress if there is stigma about mental health. Our campaign merges anti-discrimination initiatives with stress prevention. Why?

Tackle the stigma

When people fear that reporting stress, anxiety or depression will damage their career, it is hidden behind sickness and presenteeism, reducing productivity.

If you're not sure whether to disclose your stress or feelings of mental ill health, our guidance on the pros and cons may help you.

You don't need be an expert to talk about mental health.

You do need a culture that supports the conversation. Encourage your your employer to sign up to a campaign: 

Download and display the Prospect stress, stigma, solutions poster to raiseawareness and invite people (including your employer) to this webpage. Poster: stress stigma

Tackling stress

If you suspect a problem, you'll need to plan a strategy. The more people who will speak out, the stronger your position. So raising awareness is important. Hand out Prospect's Guide to Stress.

You'll need more, including a deeper understanding. Below provides information, resources and tools to help. We aim to keep this page updated with new developments.

Key information, resources and action you can take

  1. what is stress?
  2. why is it such a big issue?
  3. how do we tackle work-related stress?
  4. what are the stress management standards?
  5. implementing the stress management standards approach
  6. what can I do as a Prospect rep?
  7. my physical and mental health
  8. stress personal injury claims 
  9. stress training for Prospect reps
  10. stress - additional resources

What is stress?

stressed workerStress 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 and their resources to cope.

There is a clear distinction between pressure, which can create a ‘buzz’ and be a motivator, and stress, which becomes a risk by being protracted. Because stress is linked to mental and physical ill-health such as depression, anxiety and heart disease. Stress can also cause human error, increasing the likelihood of accidents.

Am I stressed? Find out in Looking After You.

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Why is stress such a big deal?

Stress can affect anyone with costs to individuals, their organisations and the national economy. While life's pressures seem to be rising, so too is the extent 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 the impact on the NHS.

Want to make 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.

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How do we tackle work-related stress?

Like any other risk:

  • identify the hazards and
  • assessing the risks.

See the joint TUC/HSE guidance for health and safety reps entitled "Tackling workplace stress using the HSE Stress Management Standards".

Understanding psychosocial risk and how to measure it can require a multi-disciplinary approach that engages representatives from occupational health, HR, health and safety, the employee assistance services and trades unions. 

HSE has developed a useful model called the management standards which has an auditing stress indicator tool. It recommends a steering group is established with an initial focus on line management competency. Line managers are pivotal to success, so ensuring they are given the right support from the outset is vital.

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What are the management standards?

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:

HSE does not expect every employer to meet all the standards at their first attempt. The standards are goals that employers should work towards through risk assessment, worker involvement and continuous improvement.

What about justice?

Change and restructuring, which are major causes of stress, are often associated with perceived injustices that adversely impact on people's discretionary effort - ie their willingness to give their 'all' to the job. Prospect has been pushing for perceived justice to be a 7th management standard. In line with the "Good Work, Good Health: good practice guidelines" which are an improvement on HSE's approach.

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Implementing the management standards approach

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
  • a steering group comprising people like the senior manager, a union rep, occupational health, HR and a safety practitioner .
  • 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). This is an area of weakness by too many employers. Reps may therefore need to investigate: more on this below.

Further guidance can be found in:

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What can I do as a Prospect rep?Mental health first aid England logo

Have you read the preceding paragraphs? If not it would help if you do.

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.

Be proactive

Good employers will be working to prevent stress via a multidisciplinary approach that involves their H&S and Occupational Health practitioners and their unions. Or they'll be welcoming your help to get initiatives going.

           - Top 10 stress busters - England
           - Top 10 stress busters - Northern Ireland
           - Top 10 stress busters - Scotland
           - Top 10 stress busters - Wales

  • Mental Health First Aid - does your workplace have mental health first aiders and/or an employee assistance service? Make sure you know how to refer people for support. Good employers have started to use 'mental health passports' or 'WRAP' systems to avoid individuals having to repeat difficult conversations if there is a change of line manager. Click here for the course brochure or for more on mental health first aid see: MHFA England  MHFA Wales  MHFA Scotland  MHFA NI 
  • Vet your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) - click here for guidance
  • If necessary use the law  - HSE's management standards offer your employer a strategic approach. Working together will help success. Use the joint TUC/HSE guidance mentioned above.

Overcome inertia

Some employers need a bit more or a nudge. Prospect reps may find they have to gather evidence to make the case. Full-time negotiators and organisers are available to help, as is Prospect's Health and Safety Officer, at the formal request of the Branch. 

Confront complacency

Where there is evidence of an absence of stress management, Prospect may have to adopt a tougher line to ensure compliance with health and safety law.

Branch reps should escalate using the organisation's internal negotiating machinery. Prospect's paid officials may be asked to assist. 

The last resort is to write to the employer with formal representations using the HSE-approved forms provided by the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (Brown Book). Prospect has drafted report forms H&S Reps may use, subject to their paid negotiator's approval, in the following circumstance which, if left unmanaged, creates a risk of human error, stress and/or mental ill health.

My physical and mental health

See Looking after YOU!

Stress personal injury claims

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 to apply for assistance 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.

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Stress training for Prospect reps

Training opportunities are covered in our safety reps toolkit and by  Prospect's Organising & Learning Academy.

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Stress resources 

Guidance

Presentations

Tools

Feedback

If you have any comments or suggestions for improving the webpages and resources, please email them to SafetyReps@prospect.org.uk

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