Assessing Pressure in the Workplace

Our Recently Published Article

As published in the British Association of Counselling & Pshycoptherapy Counselling at Work Journal Spring 2010

The Britain Under Pressure research was commissioned by Friends Provident and reported it’s findings in November 2008. (i)
The report found that almost 29 million people in the UK - that's nearly two-thirds of the nation - felt more stressed, less fit and healthy, and more prone to illness than they did just three years earlier – and more than 10% reported that any stress they were experiencing came from work.
Despite all the evidence of the cost of stress related illnesses to business, many companies do not take time to identify what pressures are on their workforce and/or take any action to promote and enhance employee health and resilience to sustain performance in their staff.   In difficult economic times it is even more important for business to take these actions to promote the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff and ensure competitive advantage.

The first step to helping people become more resilient to pressure is to identify where the pressure on them actually comes from and what effect it has on the individual.  Pressure is a continuum from the very positive pressure of challenge, which encourages personal development to the very negative pressure of stress which is entirely destructive.  There are many workplace stress surveys and questionnaires in existence, and most mirror the Management Standards set by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in 2004. (ii)
The HSE identified 6 key components of worklife that if not properly managed can cause ill health and poor wellbeing, lower levels of performance and increased sickness absence.  They can be described as the primary sources of stress at work. They are:
  • Work demands - including issues such as workload, work patterns and processes.
  • Level of control – how much say the person has in the way they manage their work and their time
  • Support – what’s the level of encouragement and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.
  • Relationships – what are relationships like with management, peers, direct reports, suppliers and what processes does the organisation have to deal with unacceptable behaviour?
  • Role – Do people understand their role within the organisation and do they receive the necessary development?
  • Change – How is change managed and communicated in the organisation?

It is also very useful to include some measures of the employees level of engagement with their work, their level of physical and mental wellbeing, their style of behaviour and the mechanisms they use to cope with pressure. This will result in a more meaningful survey.

The sources of work pressure interact with these personal and individual factors to determine whether there is a positive or negative outcome in terms of wellbeing and performance.

It has been found that, to improve team and organisational resilience we must focus on both the 6 key work place stressors and, at the same time, attempt to strengthen individual resilience skills such as lifestyle choices, energy management, coping skills, competency, perceptions and confidence levels.

The survey is just one part of the stress risk assessment process where the views of employees are systematically gathered and the results analysed in a structured way.  Other sources of data which may give further information on the effects of pressure may come from staff turnover rates, sickness absence statistics, performance measures.  While exit interviews, appraisals and other staff surveys may also point to the causes of any stress.

Once the results of the survey are complete then the next part of the risk assessment process is the sharing of the results with managers and employees and an action planning session arranged to look for things that are within an individual’s or teams control that if worked on, could start a process of improvement and reduce workplace pressures.  These actions are monitored and reviewed regularly and the process becomes part of good management practice.

The focus of any stress risk assessment should be to:
  • Improve the ability to identify the organisational factors that support or impair health, wellbeing, performance and resilience.
  • Enhance those behaviours and practices that enhance health, performance and resilience
  • Eliminate or minimise the organisational factors that impair health, performance and resilience.

To enable the process to work, commitment from senior management is crucial along with careful planning and excellent communications.

Employers who invest time in developing resilience and engagement, as well as tackling workplace stressors enable employees to function more effectively both at work and outside of work and give them the skills necessary to sustain healthy high performance.

GlaxoSmithKline have run programmes which focus on the key workplace stressors  alongside health and wellbeing initiatives over many years and report that staff satisfaction has increased by 21% and performance between 7-13%, reduction in days lost of 44% and global work related mental illhealth has dropped by 60%. (iii)

Can any organisation small or large afford not to assess stress and enhance the health and resilience of it’s workforce these days?

i) 'Britain Under Pressure' report Blood Pressure Association's Know your Numbers! Week 2008 (8-14 September). 2008
ii)  Health and Safety Executive Management Standards 2004
iii) Unum Healthy Workplaces Award 2007 BITC


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