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Carrying out service level work-related stress risk assessments

Guidance on carrying out service level work-related stress risk assessments as required by our work-related stress management policy.


This resource provides guidance on complying with the University’s work-related stress management policy and the completion of service level work-related stress risk assessments. The University’s approach for such risk assessments is to use the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) Management Standards as a framework to proactively identify and control the risk of work-related stress.

The Management Standards were developed following a research project that was commissioned by the HSE and the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) and are widely recognised, both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, as providing a rigorous approach to managing risks associated with work-related stress.


The focus of this guidance is to support the implementation of the University’s work-related stress management policy by describing a process for the proactive identification and control of the potential root causes of stress at a service level (i.e. at Faculty, School, Office, Department, Directorate or Team level).

Advice on completing reactive work-related stress risk assessments for individuals is provided in our line manager’s guidance on supporting employees with work-related stress. This may be required as a means of supporting continued attendance (for example due to a suspected or self-reported work-related stress issue). Or you may need to use it as part of the process of supporting an employee’s return to work following a stress-related absence.

What stress is

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work-related stress as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other demands placed on them.” HSE makes the distinction between pressure − which when managed correctly, can contribute to positive outcomes, and stress − which if prolonged, can have a detrimental effect on mental and physical health.

Work-related stress risk assessments

As a University, we have a legal duty to manage work-related stress. Our approach to this is based on the HSE publication 'Managing Work-Related Stress: A step by step approach using the Management Standards'.

Deans, Heads of Department and Directors are responsible for ensuring work-related stress risk assessments have been carried out within those areas falling under their responsibility. They are also responsible for ensuring that:

  • work-related stress risk assessments identify suitable control measures and that these have been implemented, and

  • the significant findings of these risk assessments are communicated to all employees falling under their responsibility

For large or more complex departments and directorates, it may be appropriate to delegate the task for completing assessments through the line management chain down to individual team managers and supervisors. This will help ensure assessments take proper account of relevant local workplace issues or arrangements that might have an impact on stress.

Identifying the stress risk factors

The HSE’s Management Standards cover six key areas of work design that, if properly managed, are associated with good health and wellbeing, increased productivity and reduced sickness absence. In other words, the six Management Standards cover the primary sources of stress at work and it is these factors that the University’s stress risk assessment process focuses on. The six Management Standards are:

  • Demands – workload, work patterns and the working environment

  • Control – how much say someone has in the way they do their work

  • Support – the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues

  • Relationships – promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour;

  • Roles – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting role, and

  • Change – how well organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation

Each Management Standard is described in terms of a 'desired state'. If one or more of these desired states is not met, then the risk of work-related stress is increased. The University has identified a number of organisational arrangements for each Management Standard, which, if implemented effectively will contribute to the achievement of the desired state (and thus a reduced risk of work-related stress).

Achieving the desired state does not necessarily mean that the risk of stress associated with that Management Standard has been eliminated. Some individuals may be more susceptible than others to stressors in the workplace and therefore even if the indicators are satisfied, further action may need to be considered in order to support these individuals.

Decide who might be harmed and how

At a service level, any employee could be working under conditions that could cause undue pressure and ultimately lead to work-related stress. As such, stress risk assessments should consider the likely impacts of stressors on all employees. However, some individuals or teams may be at greater risk of work-related stress because, for example, meeting the range of indicators for one or more of the management standards cannot be reasonably or practically achieved. Or because of other workplace factors, such as restructuring or other changes, that are specific to their function. Where there is evidence to suggest that this might be the case, risk assessments will need to be written which specifically consider these 'at risk' groups.

Examples of evidence of potential 'at risk' groups could include:

  • outcomes of the employee engagement questionnaire

  • sickness absence data

  • local staff turn-over rates

  • exit interviews

  • number of referrals to Occupational Health

  • feedback from SDPRs or team meetings or supervision meetings

  • standard day-to-day meetings and feedback from employees

  • information from trade union and/or employee representatives

If individual faculties, schools, departments or directorates are concerned about local stress levels, then they could undertake a work-related stress management survey. Further information about carrying out this type of survey is available from the University Health, Safety and Environment Service.

Evaluate and control the risks

The University has produced a work-related stress risk assessment. This template includes descriptions of recognised stressors associated with each of the six Management Standards.

When using the template, assessors should consider the range of identified generic stressors and remove any that do not apply to their work area. Assessors can also add service-specific stressors where they believe that this is relevant.

Wherever practical, members of staff should participate in the completion of the assessment to make sure that the range of identified stressors is accurate. The assessment could be completed, for example, as part of a team meeting or through inviting comments on the completed assessment. It might also be completed through a department’s health and safety committee.

The template also provides a range of recommended actions to control stress risk. These actions are based on recognised University management policies and practice. Departments can also record any local control measures that they have implemented to control stress risk.

You should only include control measures on your template if these are actually in place. It is very important that the risk assessment reflects things that are actually being done. Assessors must only record actual control measures.

Once the existing control measures have been recorded, the assessor should then evaluate the residual risk of work-related stress occurring. There is a matrix at the end of the risk assessment template to enable this evaluation to be recorded.

Action plans

The risk assessment template includes an action plan section where assessors can record any further actions that might be required − or that they might be intending to implement − in order to reduce the assessed risk.

If a high residual risk is identified, further actions must be identified and implemented to reduce the risk to at least a medium rating. The required actions, proposed timeframes for implementation and the people responsible for delivering these actions should be recorded in the action plan.

Consideration should be given to identifying and implementing further actions to reduce medium risks to a low rating. If this reduction can be achieved in a proportionate, practical and cost effective manner then it should be done. If reasonable control measures cannot be identified and implemented, departments will need to monitor the identified risks to ensure the control measures that are in place are effective. This monitoring activity should be recorded on the action plan.

If you identify any control measures that you are unable or unsure how to implement effectively, then this may mean that you have a training or development need. You should consider including this development need within your own development plan. Workforce Development can provide advice on development opportunities.

Monitoring and review of action plans and risk assessments

Action plans should be reviewed to ensure actions are being delivered. This could be achieved by reporting at management or departmental or team meetings, or by reporting progress at local Health and Safety Committees where these are established. Action plans should be live documents and be updated as and when actions are agreed as being complete.

Local management are responsible for ensuring that risk assessments for activities carried out within their area of responsibility are periodically reviewed and revised where necessary. It is recommended that work-related stress risk assessments are reviewed at least annually. However, an earlier review will be required where there is evidence that work-related stress is not being adequately controlled. Evidence could include:

  • increased reports of individuals experiencing stress (these could be specific reports or general feedback received from employees and/or their trade union or elected safety representatives or reports of stress from exit interviews)

  • increased incidences of sickness absence attributed to stress

  • increased referrals to Occupational Health where work-related stress is cited as a contributory factor

  • increased staff turnover

Other local drivers for a more immediate review (and where necessary, revision) could include:

  • periods of significant operational change, for example due to seasonal changes in demand for services

  • periods of significant local change (with periodic reviews before, during and after the process as necessary)

  • significant local events that could impact the emotional resilience of employees, such as the death of a colleague

It is recommended that employees are actively involved in any review. Involvement could be through one-to-one meetings, SDPRs, management, departmental or team meetings or through local health and safety committees (where established).

Training, resources and suppport

An awareness of the symptoms and impact of stress and the steps that can be taken to reduce instances of work-related stress is incorporated into manager and supervisor training and development.

Please see the University’s staff development and academic staff development web pages for information on available training and development opportunities.

The HSE has also produced a resource for managers, the Stress Management Competency Indicator Tool, that can be used to identify areas of potential development need.

Safety, Health and Employee Wellbeing (SHEW) and HR can provide support with the risk assessment process where required. In the first instance, please discuss with your nominated HR contact.


If you have any questions, please contact us.

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