Managing Stress and Promoting Wellbeing at Work

The University of Cambridge is committed to providing a safe and healthy working environment for its staff and recognises the importance of fostering psychological as well as physical well-being.

This commitment arises from the University's duty of care to all its staff, and more generally the recognition that a safe and healthy working environment contributes to the motivation, job satisfaction, performance, and creativity of all staff.

Specifically the University is committed to the promotion of health, to the prevention of work-related stress and to the provision of support to any member of staff who may suffer stress.


This policy applies to all categories of staff.

Statement of Policy


The University's stress policy provides a source of reference material for all staff dealing with stress at work. Managing stress presents a challenge to all those concerned — it can be difficult to identify and tackle, with an impact both on the stressed person and those around them, seriously affecting quality of working lives and effectiveness in the workplace. It is therefore important to take prompt action to prevent, minimise and take action to manage stress. Advice on how to do this is given below.

The Health and Safety Executive defines stress at work as:

the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed upon them

This makes an important distinction between pressure, which can be a positive state if managed correctly, and excessive pressure causing stress, which can be detrimental to health.

The point at which workplace pressures become excessive will, of course, vary with individual levels of tolerance and with levels of pressure in other areas of life at particular times.

Stress may affect people in a variety of ways, and in serious cases may be a causative factor of a physical or mental illness.

In addition, people may interpret their experience of stress in different ways, for example according to their philosophical or religious belief.

The University aims to minimise the risk of stress through a risk management process involving the identification, assessment and implementation of control measures to workplace stressors.

In furtherance of these aims, it will do the following:

Preventing stress

Take stress prevention measures such as:

  • Fostering a co-operative and supportive environment
  • Ensuring good communications within teams
  • Ensuring adequate preparation for new roles and responsibilities through risk assessment and training
  • Enabling staff to report excessive workloads, interpersonal pressures and symptoms of stress without fear of discrimination
  • Recognising early signs of stress in employees and taking action to provide appropriate intervention
  • Supporting staff in recovering from stress-related illnesses and managing the return to work after any period of sick leave so that stress does not recur.

Detecting and addressing stress

  • To take reasonable action to combat and prevent workplace stressors identified through risk assessment or those raised by members of staff
  • To increase general awareness of stress and methods to prevent and combat harmful, excessive workplace stressors in various ways, including training and health promotion initiatives
  • To consult with union safety representatives on proposed action relating to the prevention of workplace stress
  • To assist staff in managing stress in others and themselves
  • To manage problems that do occur and provide a confidential referral service
  • To manage the return to work of those who have been absent from work with stress related problems

Monitoring effectiveness

  • To review risk assessments in accordance with best practice so as to monitor risk management to prevent stress.
  • To monitor, investigate and evaluate stress indicators, such as excessive sickness absence or high labour turnover

Legislative influences

There is no specific law on controlling stress at work, but broad health and safety law applies:

  • Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees;
  • Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 employers have a duty to assess the health and safety risks to which their employees are exposed at work. Such an assessment should include an analysis of the risks to employees' health caused by stress at work.
  • Under the Equality Act 2010 employers have a duty not to discriminate against employees on account of their disability as defined under the Act. This involves making reasonable adjustments to the workplace or to the way the work is done, if the existing working arrangements or physical features place the disabled person concerned at a substantial disadvantage. Ill health arising from, or exacerbated by, stress at work may constitute a disability under the Act.

Ill health resulting from stress caused at work has to be treated in the same way as ill health due to physical causes in the workplace.

This means that employers have a legal duty to take reasonable care to ensure that health is not put at risk through excessive and sustained levels of stress arising from the way work is organised, or from the day-to-day demands placed on their workforce.

All staff have an individual responsibility to minimise the risk of any kind of harm to themselves and their colleagues and to co-operate with the University in its efforts to manage work-related stress.

Case law has established that, unless the employer knows otherwise, it can be assumed that employees are mentally capable of withstanding reasonable pressure from work.

Employers are not under a legal duty to prevent ill-health caused by stress due to problems outside work, e.g. financial or domestic worries. However, non-work pressures can make it difficult for staff to cope with work and, consequently, their performance at work might suffer. Therefore, being understanding to staff in this position is in the employer's best interest.


Management Guidance

Staff Guidance

Additional Sources of Information

Information in relation to stress and wellbeing, as well as advice and information on the support available can be found on the Occupational Health Service website.

Additional information is also available at the following University and external websites and support services:

Roles and Responsibilities

Heads of institution and managers

Line managers should be alert to the risk of work-related stress in their staff and to signs of adverse reactions in individuals. This awareness will prompt them to take remedial action. Their responsibilities are to:

  • Conduct appropriate risk assessments using HSE Management Standards, covering demands, control, support, relationships, role and change, and HSE guidance on risk assessment in general
  • Implement actions arising out of risk assessments
  • Ensure good communication especially where there are organisational or procedural changes
  • Ensure staff understand and, if necessary, are trained to perform their roles and, as appropriate, encouraged to develop further
  • Monitor workload, working hours, annual leave and sickness absence to ensure that staff are not overloaded
  • Ensure that bullying and harassment is not tolerated.
  • Offer support to any member of staff who is experiencing stress outside the workplace
  • As part of the monitoring process, conduct return to work interviews with staff when they resume work after any period of sick leave and exit interviews with staff leaving the University
  • Refer the employee to the Occupational Health Service should they or their doctor attribute a period of sickness absence to work-related stress.

Members of staff

All staff have an individual responsibility to minimise the risk of any kind of harm to themselves and their colleagues and to co-operate with the University in its efforts to manage work-related stress.

  • Staff must co-operate with their managers to reduce hazards that may affect their physical and/or mental well-being, including attending any training provided and following guidance regarding work-related hazards.
  • Where an individual believes they are at significant risk of work-related stress, then they should inform their manager in confidence so that appropriate steps can be taken to reduce the risk. Other sources of support to which they can turn if they feel they cannot speak to their manager for any reason include Occupational Health, Human Resources, Union representatives, or the Staff Counselling service, as appropriate, who will facilitate early support or intervention.
  • Staff must recognise their own training and development needs
  • Staff should be aware that a healthy lifestyle supported by an appropriate work–life balance is an important contribution to a person's well-being.

The Human Resources Division

  • Give guidance to managers on the stress policy
  • Monitor the success of the stress policy by providing and analysing sickness absence and labour turnover statistics and conducting surveys of staff attitudes
  • Provide support to managers and staff, through provision of written guidance and training
  • Provide assistance in managing individual cases of stress and advice on stress prevention
  • Ensure that the stress policy is implemented

Support Services

The agencies involved in supporting heads of Institution and individuals in achieving these objectives and their responsibilities are as follows:

The Occupational Health Service, the Health and Safety Office and the Staff Counselling Service, whose responsibilities are:

  • The provision of training to both management and employees on stress awareness, the risk assessment process and the application of appropriate control measures
  • Providing confidential consultation with the aim of assessing, medically managing or referring for specialist assistance, as appropriate
  • Consulting with management, reassessing the work environment as part of problem investigation or rehabilitation, and advising on the need for any individual work adjustments
  • Providing counselling and/or welfare advice to staff experiencing stress

Through the operation of the Staff Services Group (the HR Division and the Support Services functions mentioned above) to:

  • Monitor and review the effectiveness of measures to reduce stress
  • Keep the University informed of any changes and developments in the field of stress at work

The Safety Committees

  • Ensure that the stress policy is implemented
  • Oversee monitoring of the efficacy of the policy and the measures it recommends

Departmental Safety Officers

  • Monitor the implementation of safety policy locally
  • Advise the head of institution on the effectiveness of the local arrangements and the adequacy of the control measures, for example as a result of carrying out risk assessments
  • Report on safety to the head of institution