Birmingham City Council is the largest local authority in the UK, consisting of 6 directorates. It serves a population of 1 million people and has offices and schools throughout the city.
The Council introduced a Stress Policy in April 2004 and appointed a Project Manager (for work related stress) and a Stress Trainer/Advisor to coordinate and implement it. A corporate steering group was formed to oversee implementation, share best practice and monitor the policy’s impact. It was comprised of the heads of HR and Occupational Health, StaffCare (the in-house counselling service), the Project Manager (Work related stress) and Trade Union reps. We achieved senior level commitment by appointing a senior management rep as Stress Champion to chair the steering group and by identifying a senior level project sponsor to feedback to the senior management team.
A project plan to roll out the policy’s stress risk assessment process on a directorate, by directorate basis was then developed. One directorate was identified as the pilot site to develop a methodology for a directorate-wide stress risk assessment, following the guidance of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
A Stress Policy Implementation Group (SPIG) was also set up to oversee the risk assessment process. As with the steering group, this was a cross-organisation group with broad representation.
All managers in the directorate received a stress policy briefing, which they communicated to their staff. This informed managers of their role in implementing the stress policy and the intention to conduct a stress audit.
To advertise the stress audit an organisation-wide publicity campaign was launched using available media. Stress audit questionnaires were then distributed to all employees, with a letter from the Director attached encouraging staff to take part. A note on the front page of the questionnaire reassured staff about the confidentiality and anonymity of their responses.
Audit results showed that all risk factor categories were in need of action, but especially role and relationships. A second set of questions added to the HSE indicator tool allowed us to measure stress levels among staff groups. This information enabled us to identify the 'hot spot’ groups. 13 focus group sessions were run with staff from the ‘hot spot’ areas. These groups were facilitated by Acas and allowed staff to discuss the specific causes of stress at work and put forward solutions to address them.
Action plans were developed into key themes for action around the 6 HSE stress risk factor categories. A leaflet outlining the results of the stress audit and focus groups was distributed to all staff and an article written for the in-house magazine. A series of half-day training sessions on managing stress were then offered for over 500 staff, an initiative which continues to be offered. A bespoke stress management module is being included in management development programmes, with training on how to carry out employee stress risk assessments. Improvements are also being made to the way in which information is communicated within the directorate. A section on employee well being is being incorporated into a pilot of new supervisory notes and the process of caseload management is being reviewed.
Having Senior level interest and commitment proved to be vital, especially in moving forward with the action plans. In addition, ensuring that the appropriate people were appointed to the steering group and stress policy implementation group was an important move. Having a dedicated resource to carry out the stress risk assessment was also important for successful policy implementation and the stress management/risk assessment training provided to managers was essential.