Work-Related Stress a guide for Employers



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Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers



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Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers


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Contents


1. Introduction

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2. Defining Stress



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3. Defining Work Related Stress (WRS)

6

4. Causes of WRS



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5. Effects of WRS

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6. European Approach



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7. Role of Employer

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8. Employee Duties and Involvement



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9. Prevention of WRS

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10. How to Approach WRS Systematically



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11. Work Positive – Risk Assessment Tool for WRS

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12. Conclusion



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Appendix A – Case Study 1

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Appendix B – Case Study 2



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Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is the state agency with responsibility for promoting health and 

safety at work in Ireland today.

The subject of this Guide is work related stress. We focus on ways to reduce its likelihood and its 

effects as well as ways to prevent short-term stress becoming a long-term problem.

The focus of the HSA approach is on risk assessment and hazard reduction. This approach is reflected 

in the HSA’s Work Positive assessment tool, which aims at identifying potential risks, putting in place 

control measures and engaging with the workforce in a reasonable way to address hazards which can 

lead to workplace stress.

Queries on this issue come from employees, employers and representative bodies and relate to many 

aspects of dealing with workplace stress; but the main source is, employers who are looking for clarity 

on potential causes, suggested remedies and prevention strategies. Throughout this Guide, you will 

notice  that  the  emphasis  is  on  personal  and  relationship  issues  as  the  main  source  of  stress  for 

individuals.

While much of the stress we experience comes from our personal lives, sometimes, a person’s stress-

related condition, which may lead to ill-health and/or injury, can be caused by or made worse by work. 

Work also has the potential to be beneficial for people’s mental health and well-being. For instance, 

being part of a team, achieving results, learning new skills and solving problems are all aspects of 

work which can add to people’s sense of purpose and general life satisfaction.

Under  health  and  safety  law,  all  workplaces  should  have,  a  current,  operational  Safety  Statement 

which outlines the hazards and risks in that workplace and control measures put in place to eliminate 

or reduce them. All employers should consider any workplace hazard where there is a reasonable 

probability that it could cause work related stress.

1.  Introduction



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Stress can be broadly defined as the negative reaction people have to aspects of their environment 

as they perceive it. Stress is therefore a response to a stimulus and involves a sense of an inability to 

cope. We each perceive, interpret, cope with and react to the world differently, but a stress reaction 

is an unpleasant state of anxiety.

Two things should be kept in mind: firstly, being stressed is a ‘state’ – and therefore not permanent in 

all but the most extreme cases; secondly, when we are stressed, or under the influence of stress, we 

are less likely to behave in the rational way we do when we are calm.

How we manage pressure is influenced by many factors, some past, some current; how we learned, 

how others behaved around us when we were young, what behaviours were rewarded and what 

punished. We all cope better when we have support and when we have resources such as time, 

equipment, know-how and control.

Causes of short-term stress include tough deadlines, having to carry out tasks we find very difficult, 

having to do many things at once, or having to act in difficult circumstances or under external pressures 

– for instance, when under extra emotional strain or feeling low or upset.

Stress generally comes from aspects of personal lives; bereavement is a major cause of stress, as is 

loss of any kind, including through divorce or separation. Other life events which are stress-inducing 

include being ill or illness of a partner or family member, unemployment, financial pressure, running a 

business and indebtedness.

Being stressed may not be articulated by everyone in the same way:for instance, although we all 

experience stress through loss, people will explain the experience differently, cope with it differently, 

acknowledge it differently and recover from it in many different ways.

There are healthy ways to overcome stress – good lifestyle, diet, social solidarity, meaningful work 

which can broaden our social ties – as well as unhealthy ways to react – such as over- or under-

eating, excessive drinking, angry outbursts, defensiveness – which can lead to lack of quality sleep, 

decreased exercise and social isolation.

2.  Defining Stress


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Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

Work Related Stress (WRS) is stress caused or made worse by work. It simply refers to when a person 

perceives the work environment in such a way that his or her reaction involves feelings of an inability 

to cope. It may be caused by perceived/real pressures/deadlines/threats/anxieties within the working 

environment.

‘Stress occurs when an individual perceives an imbalance between the demands placed on them on 

the one hand, and their ability to cope on the other. It often occurs in situations characterised by low 

levels of control and support.’ (Professor Tom Cox, I-WHO, University of Nottingham, UK)

Audits for hazards leading to stress have become more and more commonly integrated into health 

and safety systems generally. This owes partly to the fact that stress also has implications for Human 

Resource Management (HR), sickness absence management and occupational health generally.

People behave differently when under pressure:

Some people feel very threatened but keep it to themselves;



 Others behave in very aggressive ways, without acknowledging that their behaviour is caused 



by stress;

Others react to the same issue in quite calm ways, feeling unthreatened and relaxed;



Others who are highly aware of their moods report that they are not very stressed by the 



issue, but enjoy its challenge;



Others have very low tolerance of any threats, and so find smaller, simpler demands made of 



them quite threatening and start feeling stressed as soon as these demands are made of 

them.


It’s  not  easy  to  establish  the  degree  to  which  the  work  environment  and  factors  outside  of  work 

contribute to an individual’s stress level. Someone who is experiencing stressful life events may find 

that he or she is less able to cope with demands and deadlines at work, even though work is not the 

cause and had never been a problem before.

Workplaces which have good communications, respectful relations and healthy systems of work can 

help people recognise and manage the type of stress which may have more than one cause; such 

workplaces tend to get the best results in achieving a healthy and productive workforce.

3.  Defining Work Related Stress (WRS)



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There are differences in underlying causes and triggers of WRS for everyone. However, some workplace 

factors are more likely to lead to stress than others: badly designed shift work, poor communications, 

and poor or even non-existent systems for dealing with bullying and harassment can all increase levels 

of workplace stress.

Table 1 below sets out other potential causes. A person can experience WRS as a result of various 

factors, often with a number of factors occurring at the same time. Some of these are a matter of the 

individual’s perception in the moment, so we cannot assume automatically that the problem is the 

responsibility or fault of a system.

Table 1: Contextual and content factors defining the hazard of WRS  

(from I-WHO, UK*)

CONTEXT TO WORK – Potential Hazardous Conditions

Organisational 

culture


Poor communication, low levels of support for problem solving and personal 

development, lack of definition of organisational objectives.

Role in organisation

Role ambiguity and role conflict; responsibility for people unclear.

Career development

Career stagnation and uncertainty, under or over promotion, poor pay, job insecurity,  

low social value to work.

Decision latitude/

control

Low participation in decision making, lack of control over work.



Interpersonal 

relationships at work

Social or physical isolation, poor relationships with superiors, interpersonal conflict,  

lack of social support.

Home-work interface

Conflicting demands of work and home, low support at home, dual career problems.

CONTENT OF WORK – Potential Hazardous Demands

Work environment  

and equipment

Problems regarding the reliability, availability, suitability and maintenance or repair  

of both equipment and facilities.

Task design

Lack of variety or short work cycles, fragmented or meaningless work, underuse  

of skills, high uncertainty.

Workload/pace  

of work


Work overload or underload, lack of control, over pacing, high level of time pressures.

Work schedule

Poorly managed shift working, inflexible work schedules, unpredictable hours,  

long or unsocial hours.

* Institute of Work, Health & Organisations, University of Nottingham, UK

4.  Causes of WRS



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Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

Checklist of potential causes of WRS for employees:

Role at work: is it clear and integrated, or do people often have conflicting roles?



Relationships  at  work:  is  there  constant  strain  and  disharmony,  or  even  open  aggressive 



behaviour between people at work?

The hierarchies and leadership at work: are effective and fair management practices in place, 



supported by positive leadership?



Control: do people have some control over some aspects of what they do each day, or are 



they totally controlled, as though they were machines?

Training: are people properly and adequately trained for the jobs they actually do?



Demands: do employees have much more work to do than they are capable of doing to the 



standard, or within the time, expected?



Some of the above factors can occur in any workplace, without leading to WRS; but when some are 

evident, and even more so when they occur simultaneously and are ongoing, there is a higher and 

increasing risk that one or more employees will begin to feel stressed.


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Usually, the effects of stress can be categorised as follows:

Mental (how the mind works);



Physical (how the body works);



Behavioural (the things we do);



Cognitive (the way we think and concentrate).



The effects of stress differ from individual to individual. Many factors influence the individual and his/

her  interpretation  of  ‘threat’,  response  to  threat  and  recuperation  after  a  threatening  experience. 

Different  personality  styles,  gender  difference,  age,  context,  family  history,  emotional  state, 

understanding of self and general social awareness will all influence each person’s stress levels.

Negative reactions/anxieties and ongoing emotional issues can be reduced if there is support available; 

but they can be aggravated if there are other outside circumstances which also put a strain on the 

individual.

The  experience  of  stress  can  radically  alter  a  person’s  behaviour.  Often,  others  will  notice  these 

changes and comment on them before the person realises that the changes have become apparent 

in his or her behaviour. Sometimes, when stressed, the most noticeable change in behaviour is anger 

– many people react to the feeling with intermittent rage. Others react to the feeling with lower resilience, 

tearfulness  and  a  tendency  to  become  easily  upset.  Some  may  react  by  engaging  in  antisocial 

activities.

Gambling, heavy smoking and excessive eating or drinking may also be involved. In extreme cases, 

other  phobic  behaviours  or  compulsions  can  develop  which  will  need  longer-term  professional 

intervention to remedy.

Irritability as a result of stress can create secondary problems such as the loss of social support. 

Scientific research has demonstrated that being stressed over a prolonged period of time is associated 

with medical conditions such as increased blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.

5.  Effects of WRS



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Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

The first results of the biggest workplace health and safety survey in Europe were released in mid-

2010  by  the  European  Agency  for  Safety  and  Health  at  Work  (EU-OSHA).  Entitled  the  European 

Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), the research shows that four out of five 

European managers questioned expressed concern about work related stress and reveals that stress 

at  work  is  perceived  by  many  companies  (79%)  to  be  as  important  a  problem  as  workplace 

accidents.

EU-OSHA’s European survey, ESENER, ‘explores the views of managers and workers’ representatives 

on how health and safety risks are managed at their workplace, particularly the area of psychosocial 

risks. These risks, which are linked to the way work is designed, organised and managed, as well as 

to the economic and social context of work, result in an increased level of stress and can lead to 

serious  deterioration  of  mental  and  physical  health’  (see  Exec.  Summary  of  European  Survey  of 

Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks Managing safety and health at work, p11).

For more information on this survey, see www.osha.europa.eu (search ESENER).

Size of Organisation is not a Barrier to Effective Risk Management

Survey evidence also shows that many smaller companies are equally able to carry out in-house risk 

assessment without the need for external assistance. Although some may seek support in the form 

of expertise, guidance and tools to design and manage their risk management process effectively, the 

measure of success is how local managers and staff implement successful preventive measures and 

engage in positive practices.

To address these types of need, the HSA offers the Work Positive system, downloadable free from 

www.hsa.ie. This is a workplace wellbeing survey tool with preventive and remedial suggestions to 

tackle work related stress and associated issues. It can be completed on line for a small fee.

EU-OSHA  also  provides  a  new  Risk  Assessment  Tools  Database,  bringing  together  checklists, 

handbooks, brochures, questionnaires and interactive tools from across Europe, is available free from 

the  EU-OSHA  website,  www.osha.europa.eu  at  http://osha.europa.eu/en/practical-solutions/risk-

assessment-tools/index_html.

Further information is also being developed on that site regarding an Online interactive Risk Assessment 

tool (OiRA) which should encourage thousands of European SMEs across all sectors to carry out risk 

assessments.

6.  European Approach


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Each employer has an obligation to ensure that, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health of 

employees is not endangered in the course of their work.

The main issue here is the question of what is reasonable. Employers must ensure that the demands 

placed on employees while at work are reasonable. This is not just confined to the job the person 

does, but involves the person’s entire role at work, from the moment the person enters the workplace 

to the moment he or she leaves. For instance, in our Case Study 2, at the end of this Guide, you will 

note that Eileen is competent at her job as retail assistant, but customer behaviour and demands 

made by new customers and new working hours rather than her core job function may be causing her 

undue stress. All of this is covered by the key term here ‘in the course of employment’.

Therefore, in order to ensure the workplace has safeguards against unreasonable demands, employers 

should have preventive systems in place. The employer may have the best intentions, but his/her legal 

duty goes beyond intentions. This is why the HSA promotes the putting in place of risk assessments 

and control measures so that employers can be assured that their management systems ensure the 

demands placed on employees are reasonable.

It is recommended that companies diagnose first, by carrying out some form of risk assessment or 

audit, and then proceed to tailor their intervention to meet the needs highlighted by that process. All 

of the above should be in written record format.

7.  Role of Employer


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Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

Workers’ Involvement is a Key Factor in Health and Safety Management

ESENER  (European  Survey  of  Enterprises  on  New  and  Emerging  Risks)  findings  indicate  that 

workplaces  with  employee  participation  are  much  more  likely  to  see  successful  health  and  safety 

measures implemented. This is particularly the case for smaller workplaces, where it is an important 

trigger for effective management of psychosocial risks.

It may be that some demands will make some people feel stressed, but they should, for their part, be 

able  to  adapt  and  learn  to  cope  with  any  reasonable  pressures.  For  each  job  and  role,  there  are 

certain intrinsic skills and capabilities required, and employers have a right to assume that employees 

are capable of performing the jobs for which they were recruited.

Where employees feel a lack of competence for their work, there can be no automatic assumption 

that this points to a flaw in the job or the employment; it is important for the person to fit the job 

demands or to at least have a plan that assists them to bridge the gap between the job demands and 

their current capability. When this is the case, there should be no WRS problem as employees will deal 

with short-term stress by developing and learning strategies to ensure they do not feel stressed over 

the long term. Employees should show due care to protect their own mental health by the actions they 

take both inside and outside the workplace.

Stress  which  is  constant  and  does  not  abate,  but  gets  worse  over  time  can  lead  to  mental  and 

physical health problems and illnesses. This is why it is in everyone’s interest to prevent stress occurring 

and reduce its effects when it does occur.

8.  Employee Duties and Involvement


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All employers are legally required to assess the working environment for systems and practices which 

lead to health and safety hazards, including stress, and to put in place preventive measures.

Policies and practices which benefit employee health can improve productivity. The perception that 

levels of stress are low is associated with low staff turnover, low levels of absenteeism and low rates 

of illness and injury. Organisations that are perceived to be healthy tend to have clear policies and 

active methods of dealing with people which encourage:

Respect for the dignity of each employee;



Regular feedback and recognition of performance;



Clear goals for employees in line with organisational goals;



Employee input into decision making and career progression;



Consistent and fair management actions.



9.  Prevention of WRS



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Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

There  are  three  main  types  of  stress  management  interventions  used  in  organisations:  Primary, 

Secondary and Tertiary.

Primary Interventions (Prevention)

This approach looks at the issue of stress ‘at source’, in order to prevent it occurring. It usually involves 

some form of organisation-wide change in the system of work, be it the design of how things are 

done, what is done and/or by whom things are done. This is the approach promoted by the HSA. It 

involves an assessment of individuals’ reactions to the environment itself measured against accepted 

or  ‘standard’  behaviours  and  systems  (for  instance,  the  Management  Standards  in  Work  Positive 

workplace wellbeing survey, which is available to do on-line or on paper through our website www.hsa.ie).

Secondary Interventions (Management)

This approach focuses on the employee throughout his or her period with the organisation. It includes 

training for the job, training in general aspects of health and safety and support offered through the 

provision of adequate management of the social and technical aspects of an employee’s working life. 

This good management practice has a role both in preventing stress and helping stressed employees 

to recover. Our Work Positive Survey gives each organisation a tailored profile which assists them in 

identifying reliable information from which to develop such interventions.

Tertiary Interventions (Minimisation)

This  focuses  on  the  provision  of  counselling  and  employee  assistance  programmes  (EAPs)  or 

outsourced support services in order to assist employees who feel a need for extra support other than 

that contained in, for example, a human resource function.

This is an approach which is not always available to small firms because of resource issues. Support 

can be provided by non-specialists in the form of colleagues being supportive, listening, ensuring that 

the individual is listened to and that his or her concerns are addressed where possible and recognising 

the need for some short-term alteration in their work system. Supervisors and managers should be 

competent  in  displaying  the  behaviours  needed  for  good  management,  people  development  and 

team cohesion. Supervisors and managers have an important role in setting the tone and developing 

the culture in the organisation and promoting respect for the dignity of each employee within the team, 

department and overall organisation.

10. How to Approach WRS Systematically



15

A combination of all three interventions is generally advisable, rather than focusing solely on any one 

to the exclusion of all others.

For example, in Case Study 1, Mark’s stress is caused by a number of factors which the risk assessment 

approach  would  identify  and  which  general  and  specific  support  measures  would  target  more 

effectively.

These approaches fit in to the risk management framework of health and safety systems which aimis 

to identify and eliminate the causes of stress as far as is reasonably practicable. Risk management is 

a structured step-by-step problem-solving approach, involving participation and consultation. It helps 

to identify and focus on the real issues causing stress. This involves an assessment of ‘where we are 

now’ as an organisation and where we need to go.

These steps are as follows:

Identify the hazards (causes of stress) – what are the aspects of your organisation that have 



the potential to cause stress? (A current methodology for doing this is the HSA’s ‘Work Positive’ 

system (see www.hsa.ie).);

Assess the risks – prioritise them according to severity and likelihood of negative outcome; 



or

Eliminate the risks – change the system so that the stressful aspect of work is eliminated;



Contain the risks – limit the impact and/or reduce the number of causes of stress; or



Protect  from  the  risks  –  reduce  the  degree  of  exposure  to  the  factors  that  cause  stress; 



and



Monitor  the  risks  –  continually  review  levels  of  stress  in  your  organisation,  through  exit 



interviews, re-entry audits, absence data and support and monitoring systems.

Control  strategies  are  methods  that  can  be  used  to  reduce  the  incidence  of  stress.  Examples  of 

control strategies include:

Redesigning some aspect of the work environment. For example, designing a less crowded 



office space, rearranging the reception area, or altering equipment;



Redesigning  the  task  itself  in  some  way.  For  example,  by  shortening  production  lines, 



improving teamwork, or decreasing or increasing responsibility;

Providing support at various levels. For example, by training for line managers, better human 



resource management and providing access to occupational health staff;



Providing  balanced  feedback  on  performance.  For  example,  by  introducing  and  offering 



training in performance management or other systems of feedback.

16

Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

An audit tool which was developed in partnership with the Health and Safety Executive in the UK and 

is used in the UK and Ireland is known as the Management Standards in the UK and in Ireland as Work 

Positive. This tool is a survey method of assessing employee perceptions of WRS in terms of what 

leads up to the experience and how these are managed at the workplace. Updated and upgraded in 

Ireland in 2011, the survey gives a well-being profile to participating organisations, identifying trends 

within certain sectors and industry types and providing a benchmark for Irish organisations in order to 

compare improvements year on year. It is available to download in paper format or to do anonymously 

on-line through our hosting partners accessed through the HSA website: www.hsa.ie/workpositive

The areas surveyed are:

Demands;



Control;



Support;



Relationships;



Roles;



Change.



In the 42 item questionnaire, employees ‘rate’ their work environment and by inputting their scores on 

to  an  Excel  analysis  package,  a  profile  of  a  department,  a  work  unit  or  the  entire  organisation  is 

developed,  giving  colour  coded  scores  in  each  of  the  areas.  Employees  also  answers  five  World 

Health Organisation (WHO) approved well-being questions, and a further two questions indicating 

their ideal resolution of any such hazard at their place of work.

This gives a snapshot – or profile – of the employees’ perceptions of the different potential environmental 

hazards at that place of work at that point in time, as well as their own coping/resilience patterns.

Identifying individual coping strength and general mental well-being at work adds to the employee 

motivation to do the audit – the employer does not receive the individual employee results, which 

remain confidential.

The  tool  is  a  very  cost  effective,  time-efficient  starting  point  for  managing  WRS.  The  University  of 

Ulster is our development partner in the survey tool administration.

Each employee should be guaranteed anonymity in participating in the survey as anonymity promotes an 

honesty which facilitates getting useful information about the perception of the environment at work.

11.  Work Positive – Risk Assessment Tool for WRS


17

Research continues to show that our satisfaction with various aspects of work, especially workplace 

relations and communication at work, is very much related to how work makes us feel, and this is 

even more so than how much we get paid or what we believe our career prospects to be.

In turn, how we feel when at work and how we feel about our work influences how we engage with 

that  work,  how  productive  we  are  and  how  convivial  we  are  in  our  working  relationships  within  a 

department, a team or a larger work group. While addressing work related stress can be challenging, 

it can also be a vehicle for positive change, for better and more productive relationships at work and 

for increased creativity and productivity.

12. Conclusion



18

Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

Background

Mark was a sales executive with 10 years’ experience when he joined Pressurepoint, a well established 

games manufacturer, as Sales Manager. He found the job challenging and rewarding until a new Sales 

Director was recruited. Since then – almost 12 months ago – he has been working late four out of five 

nights per week, getting increasingly worried about his team not meeting targets which he feels are 

unreasonable and feeling hugely stressed by work. Lately, his sleeping has been affected and he has 

started missing meals, skipping his usual Saturday exercise and feeling short-tempered and generally 

overcome by his situation.

Approaches

Mark  is  not  untypical,  in  today’s  pressurised  climate.  There  are  various  ways  of  approaching  the 

situation. If Mark’s GP were intervening, he or she might bring a medical approach and decide Mark 

would  benefit  from  medication;  ora  psychotherapist  might  bring  a  talk-therapy  approach  and/or 

cognitive therapy assessment of Mark’s entire life and lifestyle. The employer-led approach is one 

which is based around the employer’s duty of care towards the employee and the performance issues 

involved in all employer-employee relationships.

Employer Duties

The employer might not know of Mark’s situation or his anxiety. Has Mark informed the employer of 

his stress level and of the reasons for it as he sees them? The employer needs to ensure that it is 

possible, easy and safe for the employee to raise the issue in the first place. If raising stress concerns 

are  seen  as  a  weakness,  the  employee  can  rightly  claim  the  employer  and  the  prevailing  culture 

prevented  such  disclosure.  Therefore  it  needs  to  be  made  evident  and  constantly  reinforced  that 

employees can bring such matters to the employer for consultation and discussion.

The employer, upon being informed of the employee’s stress should make his or her own assessment 

of the demands on Mark:

Are the targets complained of excessive relative to other teams?



Is the Sales Director communicating appropriately with Mark?



Why is Mark working late four or five nights every week?



Appendix A – Case Study 1



19

The  employer  should  also  act  reasonably.  If  the  new  Sales  Director  is  not  applying  fair  and  just 

procedures to Mark and his team relative to other teams, why not? A remedy should be found and fair 

procedures put in place.

Are there any supports available to Mark:

Through line management?



Through other ‘bought-in’ systems?



Through EAPs?



Through colleagues?



The employee-employer communication is crucial to ensure that the employer



Is informed of the stress by the employee;



Is given indications within the workplace as to its causes;



Can be satisfied that the cause is or is not work related;



Can be satisfied that the cause is or is not unacceptable (unreasonable/reasonable).



Risk Assessment

The employer wants Mark to perform to his best, so he or she should do whatever is reasonable to 

assist him so that stress is not hampering his work performance and his mental health. If the employer, 

after considering the case, concludes that Mark’s workload is excessive and the direction Mark is 

getting is not helpful, he or she should ensure that the workload is changed, the stress monitored and 

Mark supported. A brief record of the unfolding of events should be made.

If the employer’s concludes after assessment that, although Mark is stressed, the reasons are not to 

be found in the work system, but in Mark’s ability or his personal issues, the employer should act in a 

reasonable manner to help Mark improve his performance and realise that his targets are no higher 

than other teams so that Mark’s perception of unfairness can be shifted.

Employee Duties

If a person is finding a role stressful, he or she has a duty to consider if the work system is unreasonable 

or if his or her skills or abilities do not match the job role, or if other outside issues are influencing him 

or her, or if his or her knowledge or skills or attitude are causal factors.



20

Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

Solutions

Good  communication  and  face-to-face  discussion  with  an  emphasis  on  clarity  can  often  reduce 

stressful  situations  without  any  other  intervention.  Bad  relationships  are  often  at  the  core  of  such 

workplace issues and facilitated meetings and ongoing improved communications can ease many 

tensions which lie at the core of stress cases.



21

Background

Eileen had been working in the local shop for eight years and getting along well with her boss, Liam 

(the owner manager), and the two part-time employees who work occasional shifts as well as the 

students who work at weekends. She has enjoyed her job for the most part, but lately has started 

dreading  coming  in  to  work,  especially  on  her  Thursday,  Friday  and  Saturday  evening  shifts.  She 

starts worrying on Mondays, in anticipation of the evening shifts and spends Sunday calming down 

after the experience. She feels nervous much of the time and is very agitated in her dealings with 

customers and colleagues because of the stress. Eileen believes the shop should close at 7pm, as it 

used to do, but Liam insists on opening till 10pm now, and the new hours are what Eileen believes are 

the cause of her stress levels. She’s thinking of handing in her notice as it’s all getting too much for her 

to bear and her family are concerned.

What does this outline tell us?

Eileen’s story has a number of typical aspects:

1  A change has occurred in the workplace which directly affects her.

  The change in opening and closing times doesn’t only mean a change of hours, but also a 

change in clientele (potential hazards).

2.  Eileen doesn’t say what the stressor is but identifies a ‘problem’, which is often the case.

3.  Liam, her employer, cannot know what the stressor actually is unless told of it.

4.  There  is  a  general  lack  of  insight  into  what’s  causing  the  stress  reaction  and  even  from 

reading the above paragraph, an outsider would not pinpoint the real cause. This is often the 

case where mental health and emotional wellbeing is concerned and adds considerably to 

the difficulties managing stress at work.

5.  The coping ability of Eileen is deteriorating through lack of communication and consultation 

on the real cause of the stress.

Eileen needs to assess her own perspective – why does the late opening cause her stress?

Liam  is  not  aware  of  Eileen’s  feelings  and  specifically  her  anxiety.  He  may  well  know  that  she  is 

unhappy with the new opening hours, but may not know of the stress reaction she is experiencing.

Appendix B – Case Study 2


22

Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

This often occurs, and can make the situation harder to remedy. The employer needs to ensure that 

it is possible and easy and safe for the employee to raise the issue in the first place. If raising stress 

concerns are seen as a weakness, the employee can rightly claim the employer and the prevailing 

culture prevented such disclosure.

If  employees  are  merely  dissatisfied  with  aspects  of  their  job,  these  are  not  health  and  safety 

matters.

What should Eileen do?

If it is the case that Eileen is suffering ongoing and persistent stress from the change in her working 

hours, she has to ensure that Liam is aware of the fact. Employer’s duties are dependent upon them 

being made fully aware of the employee’s stress and its perceived causes.

What should Liam do?

Upon being informed of the employee’s stress, Liam should make his own assessment of the demands 

complained of. Where Eileen is concerned:

Are the changed opening hours adding a new demand to Eileen’s workload?



If so, what are these new demands?



Is Eileen trained to carry out these new demands?



Is training required?



Are the new conditions generating safety concerns?



Are there adequate measures in place to address safety concerns?



Is the correct hazard control method in place to eliminate the hazard or to reduce it to acceptable 

levels or to protect from its effects? Is a system of monitoring in place?

Acting Reasonably

The employer should also act reasonably: if the new hours in themselves are the cause of the stress, 

could the evening shifts be redistributed? This might make for a more satisfied employee, and the 

more  satisfied  the  employee,  the  better  the  performance  that  will  result.  If  the  issue  is  the  safety 

concern, the employer is obliged to carry out a risk assessment and identify hazards.For instance, are 

hazards possible because of threatening customers, robbery, inadequate lighting or other cash-related 

safety concerns?


23

Are there any supports available to the employer:

Through representative bodies?



Through advice from other retail outlets regarding security issues for staff?



Through engineering solutions – alarms, panic buttons, cameras?



Through using the skill-sets of other staff members/colleagues by staff rotation or by having 



two staff on during identified ‘risk’ times?

Good  open  communication  is  important  in  all  stress  cases.  The  employer  and  employee  should 

discuss:

What is the meaning of a case of WRS in an employee?



What the employee believes are the causes of WRS within the workplace?



How these are work related?



What remedial measures are reasonably practical to take and if taken would they eliminate or 



reduce the stress for the employee?



What monitoring is needed to ensure ongoing control mechanisms remain in place?



What records should be kept?



Is there an efficient and effective risk assessment process with associated monitoring?



Liam works closely with Eileen and doesn’t want her to be stressed by work. He wants Eileen to 

perform to her best and so will do whatever is reasonable in line with business needs to assist her in 

overcoming her stress so that it does not hamper her work performance or her mental health.

In consultation, both conclude that the issue for Eileen is fear of violence and/or the fear of the threat 

of violence, or some fear related to threatening customer behaviour; that situation should be assessed 

– is her fear reasonable? If not, is there evidence of that? If it is, is her situation addressed, changed 

and monitored and is she offered support. A brief record should be kept of the unfolding of events.

If Liam assesses that Eileen’s stress is not caused by the work system, but by Eileen’s dislike for 

personal reasons of working a 4 to 10 shift, the issue can best be dealt with through focusing on 

performance enhancement and open communication.



24

Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

Points to Note

If a person is finding a role stressful, he or she has a duty to consider if the work system is unreasonable 

or if his or her skills or abilities do not match the job role, or if other outside issues are influencing him 

or her, or if his or her knowledge or skills or attitude are causal factors.

Solutions

Good  communication  and  face-to-face  discussions  with  an  emphasis  on  clarity  can  often  reduce 

stressful  situations  without  any  other  intervention.  Bad  relationships  are  often  at  the  core  of  such 

workplace issues and facilitated meetings and ongoing improved communications can ease many 

tensions which lie at the core of stress cases.



Work-Related Stress 

A Guide for Employers

ISBN: 978-1-84496-148-1 

HSA0366


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