Oxfordshire County Council has responsibility for many key local services. Each year the council manages £845 million of public money in the provision of these services on behalf of Oxfordshire's 615,000 people. It is the largest employer in Oxfordshire.
Oxfordshire County Council developed a process for undertaking stress risk assessments, run by their Worklife Enhancement (WLE) team which had been working with schools within the authority since September 2005 and the authority was keen to deliver the service to other Council teams.
This case study refers to work within the Shared Services directorate, with a new team created as a result of re-organisation and whose members had come together from various services throughout the authority. It was felt that the stress risk assessment would give team members the opportunity to say how they felt about working in the new team and to start discussion as to how to create good working relationships.
There were signs that some members of the team were suffering some work related stress – occasional outbursts of crying, some difficult relationships, people leaving the team after a relatively short period and relatively high sickness absence (although only one person had sickness absence which was attributed to stress). The team’s manager wanted to find out what might be causing these problems, to discover if it was affecting all the team and what actions could be implemented to reduce the risk of work related stress.
The Team is made up of a number of smaller teams and it was impossible to get them all together for one meeting. It was decided to email a questionnaire to each team member. The completed questionnaires could either be emailed back or a hard copy given to the WLE administrator. This meant the exercise was confidential as the WLE manager who carried out the risk assessment, did not know who had completed which questionnaire. The team was given two weeks to complete and return the questionnaires.
29 out of 40 team members completed and returned the questionnaire and the findings were delivered to the team manager and three other team members.
After discussing the results of this phase the following were some of the actions agreed upon. Timescales, resources and people implementing the actions were also agreed.
The second phase of the stress risk assessment process was undertaken a year later; the number of returns was slightly lower, with 24 out of 40 team members completing and returning a questionnaire. It was clarified that some team members felt there was no benefit in completing the questionnaires as the levels of stress had been reduced. It was noted that this is one disadvantage of completing the questionnaires this way; when completing them at a team meeting, it can be explained more fully that one of the purposes of the Phase 2 risk assessment is find out where and to what extent things have improved.
The overall results can be seen in Chart 1. The Ratings range from 1 – 4, with 1 being the most negative and 4 the most positive.
This chart shows the overall ratings with each individual within the team having equal weighting with all other individuals. It can clearly be seen that in Phase 2, all Standards were rated more positively; in particular Demands gained very significantly more positive ratings, improving from Medium risk to Low risk. Change also improved from High risk to Medium risk. All other Standards remained within the same risk rating band, but all gained more positive ratings. The overall risk improved from Medium risk to Low risk.
Chart 2 shows most people enjoy their job more now. These findings correlate with the research undertaken by Kerr et al in 2009 (HSE Management Standards and stress-related work outcomes) and published in Occupational Medicine which provides the first empirical evidence to support the use of the Management Standards approach in tackling workplace stress. It found that ‘…higher MS ratings …are associated with increased job satisfaction, decreased job-related anxiety and depression and lower witnessed errors/nears misses.’
Team members were asked for their comments; here are a few of them.
The stress risk assessment process enabled the team to identify the likelihood of work related stress due to hazards measured by the Management Standards. It gave them the platform to agree an action plan and implementing this plan reduced significantly the risk of work related stress overall and in many of the Management Standards. Of particular note is the correlation for most employee groups between more positive ratings for the Management Standards and increased job enjoyment.
Sickness absence in the team has reduced significantly; it is felt by the manager of the team that the risk assessment process helped in this by providing concrete data identifying specific issues which needed to be addressed.