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There's no single best way of tackling work-related stress. What you do will depend on your working practices and the causes of the problem. But only providing training or help (or both) for affected staff won't be enough - it won't tackle the source of the problem! The guide Management Competency Framework: Workplace Stress shows some of the pressures at work that might be relevant, along with some suggestions on how to deal with them.
You're right. Staff may be reluctant to admit they are feeling stressed by work. This is because being stressed can be seen as a sign of weakness. You can help by making it easier for your staff to discuss stress. Reassure them that the information they give you will be treated in confidence. Try to avoid judgemental language and constantly referring to stress. In discussions, use examples of observed behaviours, performance and output: do not use personal judgements of behaviours or possible motivations.
One of the things people can fear the most is the perception of personal criticism or implied personal failure. In exploring stress with an individual you should use non judgemental language, be objective not subjective and remember to approach that matter in a way that deals with the behaviour not the personality.
It is also essential that you use the principles of good communication – establish a rapport, actively listen, ask open ended exploratory questions and paraphrase to ensure understanding.
Most of the 'things to do' boil down to good supportive management. They're ongoing processes that need to be built into the way your unit is run.
Ask yourself whether you do these things. If you don't, or are unsure whether you do, take a look at the suggestions on 'what management can do' in the guide Management Competency Framework: Workplace Stress
Where you can't control the work-related sources of stress, it may be appropriate to move the staff member if you can. If a period of sick leave is recommended, keep in touch with the staff member and their doctor. This should be done personally if practical. However be sensitive where the staff member actually wants to be left alone. Remember that they may be able to return to work to do part of their job, work reduced hours or do a different job, before they are ready to return to their old one. Try to be flexible!
Don't be tempted to think that moving or having someone leave provides an easy way out! If you don't act reasonably, they could claim unfair dismissal or take related action. Before deciding on your course of action affecting an individual or group, think about the implications for the individual or group. For example will it put others under excessive stress, will the action isolate the individual or even be discriminatory.
As a manager it is you role to decide on the best action to meet the situation. Training is great if time management strategies are needed, increased supervisory assistance works well if the person is feeling out of their depth, counselling may help if there are a lot of personal problems – finding the best match between the underlying cause and the actions available is essential. At this stage you may want to seek assistance from a Human Resources Partner. You may also want to discuss your situation with Health, Wellbeing and Safety or the Equity and Diversity Unit.
Finally, bear in mind that if one of your staff members is suffering from work related stress, they may represent the tip of an iceberg. Find out whether others are also experiencing stress at work.
Stress management training comes in various forms. It usually teaches people to cope better with the pressures they may come across. Because it focuses on the individual, it tends not to tackle the causes of stress at work. In most cases simply providing training will not resolve major or entrenched problems. However, it can be useful as part of a ‘bigger plan’ to tackle work-related stress. Stress management training can be organised through a Human Resources Partner or Health, Wellbeing and Safety.
The counselling service provides counsellors to whom individuals can talk privately about their problems. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can provide or access various services (eg counselling, performance management, financial advice, legal assistance).
Keep in mind that these services must protect the confidentiality of the individual, so any information they can give you may not help you tackle the causes of stress at work. On the other hand, like training, they can be useful as part of a 'bigger plan' to tackle work-related stress.
If you are responsible for managing staff there are a range of programs you can access. You can also seek operational and policy advice from a Human Resources Partner. You can also discuss with a Human Resources Partner coaching assistance or similar arrangements.
In the longer term you can also improve your management skills through Staff Development programs. These programs can assist in a range of areas from carry out a PPR to improving your personal effectiveness. The programs are delivered in a variety of ways including on-line.
In most cases, complex and expensive risk management procedures aren’t necessary to tackle stress. Ordinary good management and regard for people may well be as effective as a high profile approach. But if you’re worried that stress is a major problem and you can’t deal with it internally, you could think about getting strategic assistance from Human Resources through your Human Resources Partner or Health, Wellbeing and Safety.
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