Assessing workplace stress

workplace stress - lady looking stressed

A multi-exposure of an emotional woman.

Workplace stress has become so commonplace that it is easy to take it for granted and assume that it’s inevitable. It’s not, and it can be harmful to employees, productivity and profits. Carrying out a stress risk assessment can help you address and reduce workplace stress, and improve both staff wellbeing and overall performance at your company.

HSE defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. It’s important for employers to be able to recognise the signs of stress within their workplace.

The impact of workplace stress

According to statistics compiled by the Labour Force Survey, over 600,000 workers suffer from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, and around 12.8 million working days are lost annually to these issues. A thorough stress risk assessment could easily identify factors that can be addressed to reduce these figures in many workplaces.

Employer responsibilities

Employers have various responsibilities when it comes to the health and safety of their staff. Keeping employees safe at work is regulated under the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974, which states that employers have a general duty to protect their employees’ health at work. This includes ensuring that workers are protected from workplace hazards, illnesses and injuries, including stress-related illnesses.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a specific duty to carry out risk assessments, with the aim of ‘identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace’. In spite of clearly laid-out employer responsibilities, and the statistics around workplace stress, not all workplaces prioritise stress as a risk factor, and many have never carried out a stress risk assessment.

Benefits of a stress risk assessment

A stress risk assessment can help you identify risk factors that may be harming your employees and impacting your company in various ways. By carrying out an assessment, and implementing steps to decrease risk factors at work, you may well be able to improve job satisfaction, increase morale, boost productivity, and improve overall efficiency and profits. A further result will usually be a decrease in staff turnover, and therefore the (often significant) costs associated with recruitment and training.

How to carry out a stress risk assessment

The HSE Stress Management Standards can be used to structure a stress risk assessment. This identifies six key risk factors that contribute to work-related stress. These are:

  • Demands, such as workload and work patterns
  • Control over work processes and the way that work is carried out
  • Support received from managers, colleagues and human resources
  • Roles, including staff understanding their role and conflicting roles
  • Relationships within the workplace with colleagues and managers
  • Change, including how it is managed and communicated

In order to assess stress in your workplace, you will have to carry out an assessment that covers all these areas to gather evidence of risk factors. There are two main ways to do this.

Firstly, survey your staff using a well-designed questionnaire that covers the above stressors. Making the survey anonymous can encourage honesty, but make sure that the staff fully understand that their answers will be considered and that this is their chance to promote change and reduce their stress levels at work. This will give them an incentive to complete the survey and do so honestly.

Secondly, you will need to look at data from other sources that could indicate workplace stress levels. This might include employee absence and turnover figures, reports from union representatives, previous complaints, referrals to occupational health, and interviews with staff, including exit interviews and regular review, self-assessment or progress interviews.

Once you have gathered evidence, you will need to present findings to managers and staff, and start to implement changes. It can be highly useful to consult staff and ask for suggestions as to how they think that some of the risk factors identified can be addressed and reduced. Many organisations also appoint a Mental Health First Aider who can support and guide employees who are dealing with stress and other mental health challenges.

Taking the time to design, implement and respond to a thorough stress risk assessment can be a step towards improving employee welfare, organisational culture and your bottom line. It is well worth the initial time and effort required in order to reap the long-term benefits.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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