Workplace stress is a problem that costs UK industry an estimated £9.6bn per year. In response, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has developed national Management Standards for work-related stress. These standards provide guidance on best practice for employers with the aim of improving stress management throughout UK workplaces. The aim is that implementation of the standards, by reducing work-related stress, will contribute to the improved health of the work force, reduce absenteeism costs and enhance performance, satisfaction and productivity.
Whilst the Management Standards initiative is driven by Health and Safety, much of the responsibility for its implementation will fall on Human Resources (HR) professionals and line managers. This necessitates not only that HR professionals and managers have an informed understanding of what stress is, but also that they understand the skills and behaviours needed to implement the Management Standards and manage their staff in a way that minimises work-related stress. The ‘management competencies for preventing and reducing stress at work’ research project sets out to define what these skills and behaviours are and provides the basis for practical guidance for organisations on how to implement stress management through line managers.
What the project involved
Funded by the HSE and supported by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the first phase of this research involved interviews with nearly 400 employees and managers, and focus groups with over 50 Human Resources professionals. Participants were drawn from 30 organisations across five sectors (Healthcare, Finance, Education, Local Government and Central Government). They were asked for their views on what manager behaviours are important, in terms both of behaviours that are effective and of behaviours that are ineffective for managing stress in staff. The behaviours identified were grouped into themes to create a framework of 19 management ‘competencies’ for preventing and reducing stress at work.
The research results can be downloaded as follows:
Practical application of the research findings
The identification of competencies relevant for preventing and reducing stress at work provides opportunities for employers and line managers to integrate stress management into existing activities:
1) Supporting managers in preventing and reducing stress at work
This framework allows employers to provide managers with a clear understanding of the behaviours that they should show, and those that they should avoid, when managing others. The framework can support managers to be effective stress managers in terms of being able to prevent, identify and tackle stress in their teams - without increasing their workload.
2) Integrating stress management behaviours into existing people management processes
Whether or not employers explicitly use a management competency approach, they can integrate the management competencies for preventing and reducing stress into HR activities, such as:
- Training and development: to ensure managers develop the skills, abilities and behaviours necessary to manage stress effectively;
- Selection and assessment: to ensure that those who are recruited into the organisation are good at managing stress, as well as performance in their employees;
- Performance management and appraisal systems: to ensure managers are rewarded and held accountable for showing the relevant behaviours.
3) Complementing other stress management activities
A competency approach can be used alongside other stress management activities such as stress management training, stress risk assessment and stress auditing. For example:
- As a mechanism for tackling specific ‘hotspots’ such as departments, units and teams: managers in the ‘hotspot’ areas can be supported to develop competencies relevant for preventing and reducing work stress
- To tackle issues relating to specific working conditions (such as work demands or job control): managers can be supported to develop the relevant competencies (e.g. for managing demands or increasing job control).
- To help ensure, as highlighted in the HSE Management Standards, that ‘systems are in place locally to respond to individual concerns’: managers can be equipped with the skills to be the ‘local system’ and respond effectively to their employees’ individual concerns.
The research findings are already being used in practice across the UK. In particular, stress management training for managers is increasingly including or being guided by the framework of ‘management competencies for preventing and reducing stress at work’. Meanwhile, Phase 2 of the research is underway, which aims to validate the competency framework developed in phase 1 and to produce an indicator tool that measures the degree to which a manager shows the relevant competencies. This should be available from Spring 2008. For further details contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.