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What is my role as a manager in relation to work related stress?

What is my role as a manager in relation to work related stress?

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Structural changes during a recession can often lead to a low morale and in turn a rise in absences caused by health related issues. In times like this it is essential to know how to support your employees and provide an environment of comfort.

The CIPD 2009 annual survey on absence management, policy and practice shows that stress is one of the main causes of absence amongst employees, with job insecurity being one of the main causes of work-related stress. Other contributing factors include a demanding workload, inappropriate management style and poor relationships at work. On the upside, a CIPD absence survey shows 66% of employers are taking active steps in identifying and reducing stress in the workplace.

Simple steps to be taken
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides a framework of six standards to help employers identify and reduce work-related stress. Whilst these are not compulsory, they provide a best-practice approach which has proved effective to many organisations. The standards include identification of main risk factors for work-related stress, surveys to assess the current work situation and bench marking guidance to enable companies to gauge their own performance and address stress issues.

The CIPD annual survey report also notes that it is common practice within larger organisations for employers to work in partnership with occupational health departments (OHD) and offer counselling services through employee assistance programmes (EAP). If your company does not have these means of support, the HSE website provides a comprehensive toolkit providing guidance to both employers and employees.

Your role in employee stress management
Under health and safety law, managers have a duty to identify and manage stress at work. Addressing areas of poor work design, such as workload, employee control and provision of adequate support and resources, is key in helping to reduce stress and thus increase productivity amongst employees.

Supporting employees
Line managers play a crucial role in managing stress in the workplace as they are often the first port of call for employees at times of distress. It is therefore important that managers develop the required competencies to enable them to effectively support their direct reports. Skills and behaviours required include:

  • Ability to assess and identify workplace stressors – what are the current demands? Is the work design appropriate? Remember that changes to an open plan environment or lighting, for example, could be a trigger of stress for some people.
  • Awareness of signs and symptoms of stress –. are employees unusually irritable, angry and/or tearful? Are they showing signs of absentmindedness, lack of concentration?
  • Ability to build a good rapport – Promote an open and honest environment so that employees feel able to voice their concerns such as conflict issues at work or personal problems at home. Show empathy by actively listening and showing an understanding of challenges faced by individuals both at work and home. Finally, work in partnership with the employee to make appropriate adjustments to work design and implement effective stress management strategies.


Deborah Roberts is an independent Learning and Development Consultant with 12 years global project management experience with a blue chip organisation.