The HSE’s ‘management standards’ for work related stress define the culture of organisations that are effectively managing work related stress. The six management standards cover the primary sources of stress at work:
- Quantitative demands: Workload, working hours, quantity and intensity of work. Workload is a persistent factor that contributes to work related stress, and is one that organisations find difficult to resolve as it implies increased financial resources, such as extra staffing. Long hours will inevitably also lead to stress.
- Qualitative demands: Emotional and cognitive demands at work including work life balance issues, complexity of work, dealing with angry clients and suffering patients, feeling afraid, having to hide emotions, etc.
- Autonomy: Deciding when to take a break, flexible working time, deciding how to work, etc.
- Decision latitude and room for manoeuvre.
- Control over work, including control over pace of work and over job content and decision-making power.
- Predictability of work.
- Use of skills and opportunities to develop them.
- Encouragement and resources offered by the organisation, management and colleagues.
- Social support from colleagues or supervisors.
- Management style and relationships with colleagues/managers/the organisation.
- Violence and harassment at work.
- The perception of the role employees hold in the organisation.
- Whether employees are clear about what is expected of them.
- Ensuring employees have no conflicting roles.
- How organisational change is managed and communicated in the organisation. Change is considered to be a key stress factor for workers in the UK. The recent economic crisis has meant that increased numbers of organisations are undergoing change, which has increased the potential to cause stress among employees.
Even employers who do all they can to help employees manage these six risk factors may find employees succumbing to stress. Whilst stress isn’t an illness in itself, mental or physical illness can develop if stress is prolonged and/or excessive. Employers have a general duty to ensure the health of their employees at work, which includes taking steps to ensure they don’t suffer stress in the workplace. GPs, employers or employees who are concerned about work stress, or any other work related health topic, can access resources on the Fit for Work website in the form of guides in our ‘advice hub’, ‘live chat’ (a form of instant messaging) or ‘ask a question’, or can speak to an English or Welsh-speaking advisor. Fit for Work also offers referrals to an occupational health professional for employees who have been off sick, or who are likely to be off sick, for four weeks or more.