By Nick Peach, Head of Employment Consultancy at Croner

Everyone is subject to pressure at work and in their personal life. Pressure in itself is not always negative — many employees are most productive when they have deadlines to meet. However, sometimes an individual is subjected to a degree of pressure, from whatever source, that exhausts their capacity to cope and starts threatening their well-being and work performance. When the pressure becomes intolerable to this degree, stress becomes a management issue.

You should take a sympathetic and positive approach to employees who show signs of stress and work with them to identify the factors contributing to their stress and ways in which stress levels can be reduced.

There are also obvious benefits in preventing work-related stress from occurring in the first place, including greater productivity, improved absence levels, higher retention rates, few accidents and customer complaints, as well as a reduced risk of tribunal complaints.

How can I reduce the risk of work-related stress for my employees?

Rather than waiting until one of your staff shows signs of stress, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce the risk:

1. Job design

In defining jobs, make sure your staff are clear about the main accountabilities of the post and reporting relationships. Organise the work in such a way that it is divided into interesting, complete jobs, is fairly allocated and allows for job rotation where there are repetitive or less interesting elements. Make sure that staff are able to cope with the demands of their jobs, both in terms of capability and workload, keeping in mind the needs of potentially more vulnerable staff, eg young workers, employees with disabilities, women returning after maternity leave.

2. Recruitment

Translate the job description into competencies for the purpose of assessing candidates and think about the amount of training you are prepared to provide for inexperienced post-holders. Make sure that the recruitment procedure is fair and open and designed to assess candidates against the major competencies required in the post.

3. Inductions

Make sure the induction programme is designed to answer all the queries about work and the employer in a friendly, non-threatening way, including health and safety matters. Appoint a mentor for new employees so that they have someone to look after them for the first few weeks, and make sure you follow up to ensure new employees have settled in.

4. Absence management

Keep proper records of time off work and interview those who have been away for domestic or health reasons, even where the absence is for a day or less so that you can take action when an individual reaches a level of absence that is of concern.

5. Performance management

Meet regularly with employees to discuss their work and carry out regular appraisals to identify training needs or a need for further support or action.

6. Staff welfare

Investigate further if an employee starts behaving uncharacteristically. Respond as flexibly as possible in helping employees who have either temporary or permanent problems, eg by changing working hours. Where personal problems are intruding on work, take appropriate action to help the employee, such as referring them to an employee assistance programme or welfare agencies.

7. Grievances

If grievances arise, deal with them quickly and analyse the causes on a regular basis, to ensure that there is no underlying reason for more general concern.

8. Communication

Ensure you communicate effectively with staff, not just about major changes but about day-to-day progress and activities, such as changes in personnel, so they do not find out first from other sources.

9. Exit interviews

If an employee decides to leave, carry out an exit interview to establish the reasons for leaving and underlying problems.

Croner supports employers with a wide range of HR services, including an employee assistance programme. Find out more at www.cronersolutions.co.uk

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