If you’re researching how to create and implement a stress at work policy, you’ll probably be surprised by how little help there is online. You’ll certainly have found plenty of stress at work policies belonging to different organisations, but next to no guidance on how to create your own.
In this article, we give you some tips and ideas for creating a stress at work policy as well as some useful pointers for implementing it successfully.
What is a stress at work policy?
A stress at work policy is a written document that outlines what steps an employer is taking to help manage stress in the workplace. It’s more than a simple stress at work guide, but a working document that shapes the way your organisation identifies, prevents and manages stress across your workforce.
Managing stress at work is more important than ever. According to Health & Safety Executive (HSE) statistics, 17 million working days were lost during 2021/22 due to stress, depression or anxiety. Each person suffering from these conditions took an average of 18.6 days off work.
Too much stress is not only bad for workers’ health, but it also leads to significant levels of lost productivity. Creating a stress-at-work policy is an important statement that an employer takes the problem seriously and wants to take practical steps to support workers’ wellbeing.
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What does a stress at work policy look like?
As a first step, it’s a good idea to look at what a workplace stress policy might look like. The HSE publishes a useful template which will give you an insight into how to create your own.
You’ll see from the template that it has the following sections:
- An introduction: Recognition of stress as a health and safety issue, plus a commitment to identifying workplace stressors.
- A definition of stress: The HSE defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”. It makes the distinction between pressure, which can be positive if managed well, and stress which can be detrimental to health.
- The policy: This outlines practical commitments from conducting regular stress risk assessments and consulting with union representatives, through to providing training and adequate resources so managers can implement the agreed stress management strategy.
- Responsibilities: This section outlines detailed responsibilities of managers, occupational health and safety staff, human resources personnel, safety representatives and employees themselves.
While the template will give you an idea of how to structure your stress management policies, you can’t simply amend it and adopt it. Every business is different and every workplace has different challenges. This means you need to find a way of shaping your policy to the exact needs of your organisation.
How do I create my own policy?
A good stress at work policy is more than a statement of intent: it needs to be based on meticulous assessment of work-related stress and a systematic approach for managing it.
This can be hard work, but to help you the HSE has published useful guidance on how to tackle work-related stress using something called the ‘management standards approach’.
The management standards cover the six main sources of stress at work. They overlap, but by using them to focus on stress management, you’ll be able to identify key sources of stress, create strategies for mitigating them and allocate practical responsibilities for managing stress across the organisation.
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What are the six management standards?
The six management standards are:
1. Demands. Identifying stressors such as workload, work patterns or the workplace itself.
2. Control. Determining how much say people have over their work. Generally, the more say people have, the less stressed they are.
3. Support. Evaluating how much support employees have. Is there a culture of encouragement and growth, are people managed appropriately and do they have the resources they need? Do people know how to report stress in the workplace?
4. Relationships. Are relationships positive, or are they characterised by conflict? How is unacceptable behaviour dealt with?
5. Role. Do people understand their roles, and what steps are taken to prevent conflicting roles? How can managers reduce stress in the workplace?
6. Change. How is organisational change managed and communicated, even on a small level?
As you can see, the six standards give you a powerful framework to evaluate stress in the workplace. Once you’ve identified issues, you can then devise solutions which will later inform your stress at work policy.
Let’s take an example. Imagine you’ve realised that a colleague is struggling in their work:
1. Demands. You talk with the colleague and discover that an unusually large workload is causing them stress.
2. Control. You explore how much control the colleague feels they have over their work. You learn that they don’t feel able to delegate work because they don’t want to add to other people’s workload.
3. Support. You talk to the colleague’s team members to identify people who have the ability and capacity to take on some of the excess work.
4. Relationships. You arrange training for the colleague and team members to help improve interpersonal communication, helping to ensure people are happy to alert others when their workloads become unmanageable.
5. Roles. As a result of the training team members have a clearer understanding of their roles, as well as better delegation skills. Managers also know to make regular checks that individual workloads haven’t become unmanageable.
These are just some of the areas you might hone in on, but it’s easy to see that applying the six management standards is highly effective. The standards help you identify problems with stress, devise ways of improving your organisational practice, support people in managing stress and identify new opportunities and responsibilities.
On the flip side, they also highlight that creating a stress at work policy needs to be an organisational-wide effort. For the final document to be relevant and effective, it needs to be based on a thorough evaluation of stress at work and the steps you then put in place to manage it.
The best way to do this is to conduct a stress at work assessment. This is essential to produce a policy that meets the needs of your specific workplace.
The six management standards are vital to a healthy and productive workplace
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Implementing a stress at work policy
Getting buy-in from everyone in your organisation, from senior management through to workers, is essential for successfully implementing a stress at work policy.
While every organisation is different, these steps are likely to be helpful:
- Make the case for tackling work-related stress: Mitigating work-related stress has strong commercial benefits, boosts productivity and enhances wellbeing. Get commitment to a stress at work assessment from senior management, middle managers, employees and their representatives. If your organisation is large enough, consider setting up a representative steering group and appointing a project champion.
- Gather data: Gather information on productivity, staff turnover, performance and other factors that may be being affected by stress. Hold informal talks with staff and consider using surveys to identify problems.
- Identify risks: From your research and work with people from across the organisation to devise solutions. Use the six management standards to help you do this.
- Develop and implement an action plan: This may involve revising policies, organising training, creating new procedures so the employees can more easily ask for help with stress, appointing one or more people to lead stress management efforts or training managers to spot the signs of stress more effectively.
Once you have completed these steps, then you can use what you have learned and decided to create your stress at work policy. The policy sections should outline practical commitments the company will take using your findings from stress risk assessments and survey findings.
The responsibilities section should provide further detail of actions each department will take to fulfil these responsibilities.
Creating a stress at work policy is about more than just adapting a template. You need to undertake a stress risk assessment first. This should outline the steps you’ll take to manage, mitigate and cope with stress, along with responsibilities and potential solutions. If you conduct the assessment in a way that gets buy-in from people across the organisation, you’ll also generate a consensual policy that’s relatively simple to revisit and revise.
When you start looking closely at ways to manage stress at work, you’ll almost certainly find that Mental Health at Work training can play a valuable role. By training mental health first aiders, you’ll be creating a culture in which people are more alert to the signs of stress and able to offer help early. Stress can harm people’s health and organisations’ productivity, so it’s well worth the effort to work together to stop it becoming a problem in the first place.