Management Guidance

These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the overall policy statement and the information for individuals, as follows:

Heads of Institution are responsible for the management of stress at work as part of their overall responsibility for staff management and health, safety and welfare.

The following guidance suggests ways and means in which stress can be minimised and staff suffering from stress-related complaints supported. Good people management where staff are provided with the appropriate support and development to enable them to carry out their work will create the most effective environment to reduce the risk of work-related stress.

Most people experience stress at some point in their lives, affecting people in different ways. In addition, people with philosophical or religious beliefs may interpret their experience of stress in different ways. It is a national health and safety problem in the workplace, being the most common cause of occupational health ill health. Managers and employees therefore require an understanding of the common causes and effects of stress on both the individual and organisation, in order to take the necessary preventative measures.

What is work-related stress?

The University adopts the Health and Safety Executive definition, as follows:

Stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them.

This definition distinguishes between the beneficial effects of reasonable pressure and challenge and work-related stress caused by demands or pressure with which the individual perceives they are unable to cope.

What are the effects of stress?

Work-related stress is not an illness as such but if it is prolonged or intense it may lead to ill-health, eg raised blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, stomach problems, anxiety and depression. Stress may also lead to other unhealthy behaviours including poor diet and substance misuse.

The organisational impacts of work-related stress include increased absence, reduced morale, a decline in work performance and higher labour turnover.

How can I detect stress in members of staff?

There are signs and symptoms that a member of staff may be under excessive stress. Changes in morale, decline in work performance, high levels of sickness absence and/or turnover of staff may be indicators of stress in the workplace.

How should I minimise stress?

The University has a legal obligation to carry out risk assessments to identify significant health and safety hazards.

Taking a risk assessment approach should help determine the perceived stressors and the necessary control measures to be considered to minimise the risk of stress.

The risk assessment should cover the work-related stressors identified by the HSE that is: job demands, control, relationships, change, job roles, support.

How do I promote a low-stress working environment?

Your role is crucial in creating a working environment that helps to avoid undue stress, by:

  • Assessing the work environment for the presence of stressors and taking action to control and minimise the risk to employee health
  • Ensuring adequate preparation for new roles and responsibilities e.g., training and development needs
  • Facilitating good communications and support within the team e.g., regular team meetings, one-to-one reviews
  • Being aware of signs of stress in your staff and taking appropriate action - and expecting your supervisors to adopt the same approach.
  • Encouraging your managers to have an open and understanding attitude to what staff say to them about the pressures of their work
  • Ensuring regular performance and development reviews and agreeing, implementing and monitoring the personal development plans, training needs and priorities.
  • Showing understanding towards people who admit to being under too much pressure
  • Encourage and support staff to take regular breaks during their working day, and to manage their working hours in an appropriate timeframe.

How should I manage cases of stress?

Whatever action is taken to minimise stress it is inevitable that some members of staff may suffer from its adverse effects. In these cases, early action may make it possible to prevent serious exacerbation of the effects by supporting the employee to cope in the workplace.

If a member of staff is believed to be experiencing stress, they should be encouraged where possible to report this to and discuss it with their manager, who can help implement any necessary changes. The Individual stress risk assessment tool can be used to assist this process.

An action plan should be agreed with the employee to assist them in coping with reasonable work pressures. Their performance against this should be monitored, reviewed and revised as necessary, to enhance the chance of success.

Advice and support should be sought at an early stage from the HR Business Manager or HR Adviser assigned to your institution, who will support you in taking action including making referrals to/seeking advice from other support services.

It may be appropriate to review the risk assessment on a regular basis in order to identify the causes, whether work-related or personal, and to assist in managing and resolving any issues.

If the stress is caused by external or personal issues, measures to improve the situation could include:

  • on-going review and, as appropriate
  • agreeing to time off as leave at an early stage so that the employee can endeavour to resolve the situation
  • referral to Occupational Health Service, if health is affected
  • referral to the Staff Counselling Service

If the stress is work-related, measures to ameliorate stress could include:

  • modifications and/or restrictions to duties e.g., temporary reduce hours and / or tasks
  • provision of equipment
  • assessment and taking action on of development and training needs
  • seeking a resolution of any interpersonal issues affecting the member of staff; this could include conciliation and/or referral to the Internal Mediation Service
  • referral to the Occupational Health Service
  • referral to the Staff Counselling Service

Whatever the cause of the stress, the emphasis should be on preventing the employee becoming ill as a result of workplace stress.

What if the employee is suffering ill-health as a result of the stress?

If this is the case, whether or not absence has occurred, referral to the Occupational Health Service should be encouraged for a health assessment, advice and support. Early referrals are beneficial to prevent absence. In addition, you should encourage the employee to seek advice from their GP You could consider temporarily changing the work, if possible, and pending medical advice to take away certain duties or contact that seem to be causing the symptoms.

What if there is stress-related sickness absence?

Should a member of staff take sick leave because of a condition which could be stress-related you should, in consultation with your HR Business Manager or HR Adviser, investigate how you could facilitate rehabilitation back into the workplace, considering the above actions.

This review may require a multidisciplinary approach, referring to and seeking advice from HR Business Manager or HR Adviser, the Occupational Health Service, and the Staff Counselling Service. A meeting with your HR Business Manager or HR Adviser and appropriate support services should be encouraged

You should maintain contact with the absent member of staff and when their health has recovered sufficiently to consult with them, identify the difficulties and, as appropriate, agree an action plan for their return, including agreeing a manageable work programme. They may wish to be accompanied by a union representative or a colleague at any meeting.

Options to facilitate the return to work may include:

  • a graduated return to full-time hours
  • a staged re-introduction of duties
  • the management of difficult working relationships

You may need to assess the impact of these arrangements on other members of the team, explain the situation and acknowledge the additional work they may need to temporarily carry out and guard against them becoming stressed. A successfully managed process of rehabilitation following good communication, and the identification of stressors, should result in the member of staff resuming productive work in a supportive environment. Regular review meetings following the return to work should enable constructive discussion on progress. Any occupational health reports should be discussed on receipt and included as part of the monitoring process.

What if there is no possibility of a return to the post?

If it proves impossible to achieve this goal, other possible solutions need to be considered in consultation with the member of staff and with the input of the HR Business Manager or HR Adviser assigned to the institution and occupational health.

Action may include:

  • a permanent change in the duties of the post, which may involve, with the agreement of the member of staff, returning to work at a lower level
  • redeployment of the member of staff to an alternative post in the institution or elsewhere in the University
  • termination of employment on grounds of capability
  • retirement on the grounds of ill-health

What responsibilities do members of staff have in stress identification and elimination?

Your staff have a responsibility for maintaining their own health and wellbeing. By co-operating with supervision and appraisal processes and training, their competence and ability to cope with work situations should be increased.

Similarly, their participation in the risk assessment process should help to create healthier working environments and practices.

Members of staff are responsible for raising the need for support with an appropriate person, such as their manager, colleague, union representative, when they feel they are not coping. Staff suffering from the effects of stress should expect their manager and colleagues to fully support them to help prevent sickness absence or assist in a return to work strategy.

When stress is identified, a member of staff must heed the advice given by their medical advisers and the Occupational Health Service. He/she should take an active part in the development of coping strategies and action plans and then make every effort to keep to them. The likelihood of success will be significantly increased if they have ownership of the plans.

What support is available to help me to manage individual cases?

You are advised to make contact with your HR Business Manager or HR Adviser, the Occupational Health Service or the Staff Counselling Service at an early stage.

What other guidance is available?

Additional information to managers on dealing with work related stress can be found on the HSE and ACAS websites.