This is clearly an area that responsible workplaces and organisations will want to focus on in order to take effective and proactive steps to look after the Health and Safety of their employees.
We have seen lately an increased focus on mental health in the workplace with the Institute of Directors recently releasing guidance and information to support businesses in developing healthy workplace cultures. Much of this guidance and other campaigns is aimed at supporting employees with mental health difficulties and reducing the prejudice and discrimination that many people experience when disclosing their difficulties to employers. Whilst this guidance and the drive to up skill line managers is very welcome, it is best placed within a strategy which places an equal focus on proactive measures to reduce and control employees exposure to work related stress. It makes good business sense to respond proactively and ensure that measures are in place to effectively monitor levels of work related stress within the environment and to manage the factors that might trigger mental health difficulties. The HSE Management Standards, due to be updated and reissued this year, will enable workplaces to respond proactively to the issue of stress at work and give 5 other opportunities as detailed below:
1. Early Intervention
Using the HSE Management standards framework will give you an opportunity to have effective conversations with employees and teams to ascertain which workplace factors may be impacting on them and how they can be reasonably managed. If you notice an employee whose performance is dropping and whom you might be concerned about, it is best to try and identify any workplace issues which may be driving difficulties or exacerbating them. Even if an individual’s difficulties are coming from other areas of their life, is it not appropriate and supportive to make small, reasonable adjustments to reduce any unnecessary pressure? One thing is for certain, situations often don’t resolve themselves in isolation and a proactive, supportive approach may just avoid lengthier periods of absence.
2. Solution Focused and Collaborative
The HSE framework promotes a solution focused approach by giving employees an opportunity to identify difficulties stemming from six areas of demands, control, support, relationships, role and change and to discuss together, ways of managing and implementing reasonable, time limited adjustments. The above six areas have been identified as possible environmental risk factors for the development of work related stress by the HSE. This process enables individuals and teams to feel included and gives them a voice when considering effective adjustments at work. More importantly, it is not designed to be a punitive process but provides a space where all parties can move potentially difficult circumstances forward. It also allows employers to monitor whether adjustments and interventions are actually having the desired effect and reducing the experience of stress at work.
3. Time to Talk about Mental Health?
Although stress is not a medical condition, lengthy exposure to stressful experiences and more frequent exposure may increase the likelihood of an employee developing a common mental health difficulty such as depression and heightened anxiety. This framework will give you an early opportunity to discuss mental health and well-being in the workplace especially if you are concerned about an employee or team. Weaving this approach into your normal people management processes will also help you to create a culture which talks openly about mental health and well-being.
4. Promotion of Support Strategies
We know that early intervention is often the key when supporting employees who may be experiencing difficulties and help them to recover more quickly and enable them to stay at work. During the conversations this approach supports, it is an ideal opportunity to talk through the various support mechanisms your workplace promotes, from counselling services and occupational health to flexible working opportunities and information on any training courses you offer to increase personal confidence and skills based competency. It will also help you to reassure employees that it’s OK to use these services and demonstrate how effective they can be.
5. Best Practice
The HSE are due to re-issue and update the Management Standards approach this year and you will have an opportunity to be part of an effectively researched, evidence based approach to managing work related stress and can take full advantage of the benefits this will offer in sharing good practice. A refreshed set of guidance and tools, including digital offerings will give you a comprehensive way of embedding a proactive approach to supporting employees. The guidance will also help to develop a healthy workplace which acknowledges the part environmental factors play in the development of mental health difficulties and the powerful part it can play in promoting good mental health.
Based on the HSE Management Standards, our Identifying and Managing Stress courses provide managers with the tools to implement proactive measures in the workplace.
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