Supporting employees with work-related stress
Carry out an individual stress risk assessment to support members of your team who are either showing signs of, or who are reporting, stress.
The University’s Work-Related Stress Management Policy aims to reduce the risk of work-related stress happening by carrying out proactive work-related stress risk assessments and implementing appropriate control measures.
Even with such measures, there may be occasions where employees experience work-related stress. This guidance note sets out the University’s approach for supporting those employees where stress is, or is suspected to be, an issue. The approach uses the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) Management Standards as a framework for identifying specific issues within the workplace that might be impacting upon an individual.
The purpose of this guidance is to support the implementation of the University’s Work-Related Stress Management Policy by describing a process for the identification and control of the potential root causes of stress in individuals in order to support continued attendance at work or to support an employee’s return to work following a stress-related absence.
What is stress?
The Health and Safety Executive define work-related stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand place on them by work”.
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.
When is an Individual Work-Related Stress Assessment Required?
An individual work-related stress assessment is required where:
an employee indicates that they may be suffering work-related stress; or
an employee has had a period of sickness absence due to stress; or
the line manager suspects that an employee may be experiencing work-related stress.
Line managers are not responsible for diagnosing work-related (or any other form of) stress but they may find the signs and symptoms provided in Appendix 1 useful as a guide to where stress may potentially be a problem.
Individual Work-Related Stress Assessment Process
Employee at work
Once an employee has been identified as requiring a work-related stress assessment, the line manager should:
Sign post the University’s counselling scheme and the other resources that are available to support the employee (See Section 9: Further Information);
Liaise, where necessary, with their nominated Human Resources contact to seek advice on how to carry out the assessment. Support is available from HR and also the University’s Health, Safety and Environment service (UHSE);
Arrange a meeting with the employee to complete the individual work-related stress assessment. If the employee wishes then they can be accompanied by a Trades Union or other representative. If the employee wishes to have a representative present then please advise HR.
Employee absent from work (due to stress)
Where employees are signed off work (on i-Trent) for seven or more days as a result of stress or due to mental health issues, they will be contacted by the University so that they can be advised of the support mechanisms that are available to support them to return to work. UHSE, HR or through the line manager. Where HR and/or UHSE make contact, they will also contact the relevant line manager to advise them of the support available to them to manage the employee’s sickness absence in accordance with HR policies and procedures.
HR can advise the line manager on when it is most appropriate to arrange a meeting with the employee to carry out the individual stress assessment.
Employee identifies issues with line management
In some circumstances, the employee may believe that their stress is due, in some way, to line management. If the line manager believes that this may be the case then they should consult their HR contact so that alternative arrangements can be identified for undertaking the assessment.
Carrying out the assessment
The University has developed an Individual Work-related Stress Risk Assessment template based on the HSE’s six management standards. Line managers should use the template to structure the meeting with the employee to identify any concerns that the employee might have.
The template identifies potential stressors under each management standard heading. There are also additional rows under each heading where employees and/or managers might wish to identify other stressors that might warrant discussion.
The template also provides space for the employee to identify other stressors, including non-work issues, which may be having an impact on work and which may be alleviated by implementing adjustments at work.
The Management Standards cover a wide range of potential workplace issues. We advise line managers to share the template with the employee in advance of the meeting. This enables the employee to consider each management standard in advance and its relevance to their situation. If this is not possible then the line manager may need to consider completing the process over a couple of meetings.
Where an individual identifies concerns, then the line manager should record any comments or suggestions that they might have to address those concerns. We advise that line managers consider the control measures and associated HR policies and procedures embedded in their service level stress risk assessment when trying to identify appropriate solutions to employee concerns.
Managers should also consider other local solutions that might help address the individual’s concerns. This could include looking at specific aspects of the individual’s role to identify whether there are specific stressors that require controls or support or other adjustments not provided through the function level control measures. Where necessary, line managers may want to consult with HR to identify how such local arrangements might work in the context of broader HR policy and procedures.
Where no solution can be identified or there is disagreement around what is being done, or what can practically be done, to address the employee’s concerns (for example, where legitimate business needs dictate how, when or why work tasks are done) then these should be recorded in the manager’s comments.
Creating an Action Plan
The meeting should work through each of the six management standards with the assessment outcome being the production of a suitable action plan. The action plan should identify:
Actions to be taken;
Who is responsible for delivering agreed actions;
When actions should be completed by;
Where an employee and the manager fail to agree on specific action points then these should not be recorded on the action plan. The manager should make a separate note of the disagreed points. For transparency, this record should be shared with the employee so that any misunderstandings can be clarified at the earliest opportunity. The line manager should also consider seeking support from HR to discuss how disputed points may be resolved.
The employee and line manager should both sign the agreed action plan.
Monitoring and Review
The individual work-related stress assessment is a live document; the implementation of the action plan does not signal the end of the process. The line manager and employee should periodically review the assessment and action plan to monitor the implementation and effectiveness of agreed control measures.
The line manager and employee should agree dates to meet and review the effectiveness of the plan. Where monitoring identifies issues then the manager and employee should explore additional actions to reduce the risk of work-related stress to a tolerable level.
Monitoring does not have to be carried out as a separate activity. The manager and employee could include this in scheduled one-to-one meetings or the monitoring could be embedded within the annual SDPR+ process, as appropriate. Over time, the individual and line manager may conclude that certain control measures are no longer required or that these should be revised.
Decisions should be recorded on the individual stress assessment record.
Training, development and Support
Advice, guidance and support on undertaking individual work-related stress assessments is available from HR and/or UHSE. In the first instance, please discuss with your nominated HR Business Partner or HR Advisor.
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.
Staff Development has a number of online resources that managers can access. An overview of these resources and how these map to each of the management standards is provided as an appendix to the Individual Stress Risk Assessment template (NB. Single sign-on required).
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.
Further guidance and tools to manage stress are available at: