The successful management of stress in the workplace relieson an effective policy. But any policy must go beyond simply paying lip serviceto the problem – it must be fully integrated into the organisation, by DrClaire Welsh A major campaign to tackle work-related stress was launched by the EuropeanAgency for Safety and Health at Work on 2 July 2002. This is the first time aEurope-wide stress campaign has taken place, and it is clearly needed. According to the Third European Survey on Working Conditions, 28 per cent ofworkers, or 41.2 million people, across the EU’s 15 member states experiencework-related stress.1 Furthermore, it is estimated that the total cost ofstress across the EU amounts to approximately £13bn.2 In the UK alone, theHealth and Safety Executive estimates that 6.5 million working days are losteach year as a result of stress-related illnesses, costing industry about£3.75bn.3 So do British organisations have a strategy in place to address thischallenge? Unfortunately not, it would appear. Research by the Industrial Relations Service in 1999 reported that only 21per cent of organisations had a written policy on stress in place.4 Similarly,the TUC found in its research that only 31 per cent of organisations surveyedin the UK report having implemented a policy on stress. Furthermore, when theIndustrial Relations Service questioned safety representatives about thesuccess of such a stress policy, only 25 per cent felt it had been partly orvery effective.5 Clearly, a strategic policy on stress must form the cornerstone for anyaction that is taken to address stress within an organisation. Without such apolicy, there is a danger that any initiatives aimed at tackling stress will bereactive, and that the responsibilities of management and staff for addressingstress will not be made clear. However, developing and implementing a stresspolicy is unlikely to be an easy task, and will require a great deal of timeand commitment from stakeholders across the organisation. General principles There are a number of general principles that should be followed whendeveloping a policy on stress. First and foremost, it is essential that thedevelopment and implementation of the policy be based upon a partnershipapproach. Personnel from an organisation’s occupational health and/or health andsafety department must take a key role in putting together a stress policy, andin ensuring that their technical expertise is used to its full advantage.However, it is important that stakeholders from other areas of the organisationhave input into the policy. There are at least three good reasons for adopting this approach. First, such stakeholders may have greater expertise than OH and safety professionalsin relation to certain areas of knowledge on stress. For example, anorganisation’s legal department may be more knowledgeable on how to interpretthe legislation relating to stress. Second, such stakeholders are likely to have a responsibility for ensuringthat the policy is integrated into the business, and will therefore require agood understanding of the way in which the policy should be interpreted. Finally, the stress policy may impact upon, or overlap with, otherorganisational policies and practices, and therefore the ‘owners’ of suchpolicies need to be consulted, to ensure that all policies and practices areconsistent. Partnership approach Steps need to be taken to ensure that the partnership approach works inpractice. All stakeholders need to be clear about what their role is in thedevelopment and/or implementation of the policy, and how their role fits inwith the roles of other stakeholders. Arguably the best way to achieve apartnership approach in practice is to establish a steering committee early on,and to hold regular meetings, which allow everyone the opportunity to voicetheir opinions and to provide input into the policy from the very beginning.Stakeholders who might be invited to take part in the steering committeeinclude personnel from human resources and the organisation’s legal department,representatives concerned with equal opportunities and industrial relations,and trades unions. While ensuring that a democratic approach is taken, it is also importantthat there is one key individual who acts as chair of the steering committee,and who ultimately has the final say on decisions. Without this individual,there is a danger that conflicts between stakeholders will be allowed toescalate, and progress on the development of the policy hindered. Furthermore,this one individual can act as a focal point for any queries or commentsstakeholders may have in between steering committee meetings, therebyfacilitating communication throughout the policy development process. Ideally, personnel from the OH or health and safety departments should holdthis key role, in order to ensure that the decision-making process is informedby the latest technical knowledge and expertise. Selling the policy The second principle in the development of a stress policy is to ensure thatit is ‘sold’ to the business. Successfully influencing senior and middlemanagement of the need for a policy is likely to be a key factor in determiningthe efficacy of the policy once implemented. If senior management holds a cynical or suspicious view of the policy, thenit is quite likely that such attitudes will be passed down through themanagement chain. Consequently, line managers, who will ultimately hold much ofthe responsibility for ensuring that the policy is implemented effectivelywithin their own departments, are unlikely to feel encouraged to take theirresponsibilities seriously. The most effective method for achieving buy-in to the policy is likely todiffer across organisations, and will be influenced by the culture and politicswithin each organisation. One way of selling the policy that may prove usefulin some organisations is through the development of a sound business case. Thiscan outline the cost of stress for the business, for example through increasedsickness absence, turnover and litigation, and reduced productivity. One methodfor determining the costs of sickness absence has been proposed by Bevan andHayday (2001), 6 and may prove useful as a mechanism for convincing managementthat it cannot afford to ignore the issue of stress. For other organisations, the ‘stick’ approach towards influencing managementmay not be effective. It may be that statements involving the word ‘stress’,and which are aimed at instilling a certain amount of fear in management, willsimply fall on deaf ears. Such organisations may respond more encouragingly toa ‘carrot’ approach, in which the positive benefits of a healthy workforce areemphasised, and less contentious words are used. In such circumstances, it may be more appropriate to talk about a‘well-being’ policy. Provided the key principles of the policy are the same asthose for a stress policy, and management and staff are clear about their rolesfor improving well-being – or preventing stress – it should not matter how thepolicy is marketed. The important issues are that there are procedures andservices in place, which prevent and manage stress, and that management andstaff are encouraged to comply fully with the policy. Whatever method is used to sell the policy to the business, the time andcommitment required to achieve buy-in should not be underestimated. While theprocess of gaining buy-in may delay the development of the policy, it is onestep that must not be overlooked. Once it has been achieved, representatives from management and staff shouldbe invited to take part in the steering committee. Their role is important inmaking sure the policy is user-friendly, and feasible on a day-to-day level.They will be well placed to comment on whether the demands placed upon bothmanagement and staff, in respect to their responsibilities in implementing thepolicy, are realistic in the light of day-to-day business pressures. They mayalso play a significant role in helping to sell the policy to their colleaguesin the business, reassuring them that it is both useful and practicable. Objectives of the policy The policy should fulfil at least four objectives: – To communicate the organisation’s commitment to managing stress andimproving well-being – To raise awareness and understanding of stress – To clarify managers’ and employees’ roles in preventing and controllingstress – To communicate the organisation’s procedures and resources for preventingand managing stress To succeed, the policy must use language and terminology that is appropriatefor the organisation, and which is easily understood. The policy must alsocomplement the organisation’s other policies and procedures, such asharassment, absence management, and working time policies. And clearly, thepolicy must be legally compliant. The requirement of health and safety, and employment legislation, such asthe Working Time Regulations (1998), the Disability Discrimination Act (1995),and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999), must all beincorporated into the stress policy. For example, in line with health and safety legislation, the policy mustadvocate the use of risk assessments for stress across the organisation.Consequently, the policy must focus not only on individual approaches tomanaging stress, but also on organisational approaches, including theidentification and management of the root causes of stress at work. Implementing the policy Following sign-off of the policy by all stakeholders, it should beimplemented across the business. This is likely to be the most challengingstep. All too often, well-developed policies are resigned to becoming littlemore than pieces of paper gathering dust in staff or management manuals. Thepolicy must go beyond simply paying lip service, and must be fully integratedinto the business and its day-to-day procedures. There are at least three ways of facilitating this integration. First, thepolicy must be communicated effectively to all. The most appropriatecommunication media for each organisation, such as manuals, posters, electronicmail, paper briefings, intranet, articles in newsletters, and team briefings,should be used to inform staff and management of the policy. Second, a number of products and services should support the policy, forexample, a staff or management handbook on stress, tools for risk assessingstress, a confidential counselling service, and effective rehabilitationservices to support those staff who are absent from work as a result of astress-related illness. Some organisations may already have such services in place, and willtherefore be able to utilise the policy as a means of bringing together, andcommunicating, the products as a whole. Other organisations may need to spendtime developing such services, to ensure that management and staff have thetools they need to prevent and control stress effectively. It is oftenadvisable in such circumstances to delay the implementation of the policy untilsuch services are available, to ensure that the policy has maximum impact fromthe beginning. Finally, systems should be put in place for encouraging management and staffto fulfil their responsibilities in the prevention and management of stress.For example, compliance with the stress policy could be included as ameasurable objective within a manager’s appraisal. This would involve, amongother things, management maintaining records of all the risk assessments forstress they have carried out, and documenting ways in which they have supportedthe rehabilitation of staff who are absent from work with stress-relatedillnesses. Organisations may wish to consider initially piloting the policy across anumber of departments, prior to rolling it out across the entire company. Thishelps to ensure that the policy is indeed user-friendly, and will provide anopportunity for testing out some of the products and services that support it. Evaluation Once the policy on stress has been successfully implemented, it is importantthat it is evaluated on a regular basis. This is to ensure that it is based onthe latest scientific thinking and emerging legislation, and to assess whetherit is optimally effective across the business. The impact of the policy in the short term could be evaluated using measuresof employees’ and management’s levels of awareness of, and reactions towards,the policy, obtained from staff surveys or focus groups. This will provideevidence of the improvements that need to be made to the policy, both in termsof its content and the way it has been implemented. The longer-term effects of the policy can be assessed in a number of ways,including a review of changes in stress-related absence levels, performancelevels, and usage rates of the counselling and rehabilitation services. It should be noted, however, that organisations may initially witnessnegative changes in all of these measures in the months followingimplementation of the policy, as staff and management become more aware oftheir stress levels. However, over time, an effective policy on stress shouldlead to reductions in sickness absence levels and improvements in performancelevels, as the procedures in place for preventing and managing stress begin totake effect. Conclusion Developing a comprehensive, proactive policy on stress can provechallenging. However, it is a necessary step in ensuring that organisationalinitiatives for managing stress are integrated, both with each other and withthe business. Occupational health staff must play a key role in the development process,in collaboration with their colleagues from related departments. However,ultimately their efforts can only go so far, and it is management and staff whomust be encouraged to take overall ownership of the policy, by ensuring thatthey fulfil their responsibilities within it. Only then, when the organisationhas fully bought in to the policy, can it be deemed to have been whollyeffective in the prevention and management of stress. References 1. Paoli P, Merllié D (2000) Third European Survey on Working Condition.Dublin: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and WorkingConditions. 2. Cooper C, Cartwright S, Liukkonen P (1996) Stress Prevention in theWorkplace: Assessing the Costs and Benefits to Organisations. Dublin: EuropeanFoundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. 3. HSE (2001) Tackling Work-related Stress. A Managers’ Guide to Improvingand Maintaining Employee Health and Well-being. Sudbury: HSE Books. 4. Paige J (1999) Work Stress: A Suitable Case for a Code. London: TUC. 5. Industrial Relations Service (1999) Stress at work: a survey of 126employees. Employee Health Bulletin, 11: 4-20. 6. Bevan S, Hayday S (2001) Costing Sickness Absence in the UK. Brighton:IES. Dr Claire Welsh is a chartered health psychologist, who through herbusiness, Equilibrium Consulting, provides tailored solutions for organisationsin the assessment and management of stress. She is co-author (as C Barlow) ofthe HSE Report Organisational interventions for work stress: A risk managementapproach. She can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected] Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Pressure pointOn 1 Oct 2002 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos.