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QVC - stress case study

Who are they?

Doncaster metropolitan borough council logo

QVC is one of the world’s largest multimedia retailers, reaching 166 million homes across the globe and employing more than 17,000 people across the USA, Germany, Japan, Italy and the UK.

A workforce of more than 2,000 are involved in the 24 hours a day operation, in the Head Office and Broadcast Centre in Battersea, London, and Customer Operations Centre in Knowsley, Merseyside.

Why we decided to tackle stress at work

One of QVC’s vision statements relates to ‘Creating a Great Place to Work’ for our people. This vision ensures we stay focused in all areas of our employees’ experiences at work, including their health, safety and wellbeing. Our focus when reviewing our approach to managing stress/pressure has been the employee experience (Employee Engagement) at work.

Our key aim is to equip managers with the tools to recognise potential signs of stress and to prevent it. We were also keen to ensure that managers understood why we placed such great emphasis on employee wellbeing.

The number of stress cases was not a key driver for us. Stress cases do exist, but we felt that a programme that inspired leaders to focus on the wellbeing of their people would lead to greater levels of engagement.

How we did it

We began by securing senior management commitment, as this is central to the Management Standards process. We briefed the senior management team to ensure they understood the need for and the benefits of the initiative. As the HR and Health and Safety function worked together the senior team understood the legal obligations as well as the health and well being approach we were taking.

We decided that the traditional risk assessment route was not right for us but we have retained the five key elements of a risk assessment process:

  1. Identify the risk factors: We worked with a third party consultant to set up and facilitate workshops and an awareness-raising programme for leaders. The workshop called ‘Managing Pressure – A Health and Wellbeing Approach’ involved raising awareness of the Standards and their relationship to every day management procedures, as well as explaining the difference between pressure and stress and exploring how nutrition and diet can affect mood and energy.
  2. Who can be harmed and how: We have several methods of collecting data. They include traditional data gathering of sickness absence information, using our employee survey to understand where issues exist. Our staff survey operates every 18 months, and we select the questions that align with the Standards when reviewing the risk of work-related stress. We also have an active HR team that monitors its client areas and feeds back centrally on team behaviour and morale. This combination of methods allows us to understand the risks.
  3. Evaluate the risks: QVC is a non-unionised organisation, so leaders work closely and meet regularly with employee representatives to discuss emerging issues. We also work very closely with employees following the results of the employee survey and we’ve established focus groups with representatives from around the business to move the results into appropriate actions.
  4. Record your findings – develop and implement action plans: We continually review and use the information gathered from sickness absence meetings, employee survey results, employee forum groups and HR teams to develop responses and proactive programmes to support our people. We work with our forum representatives and management groups across the business to develop solutions such as:
    • Working with local financial organisations and relationship counsellors to provide services within QVC.
    • We are currently in the process of enhancing and improving our Occupational Health service. Part of this includes developing further the links between our HR and Health and Safety teams.
    • We have rolled out our ‘Managing Pressure’ sessions to our management groups and intend to design and roll out a tailored ‘Managing Pressure’ programme to employees.
    • Performance management system: we have redesigned our appraisal documentation to encourage discussion about the manager’s style/behaviour. Scores from the employee survey, which link to our employee experiences, are now included with the appraisal form and assessed as part of a leader’s overall performance.
    • Communication is essential: We work with our internal communications team, our employee forums and our management team and use our employee survey to ensure everyone has a voice.
  5. Monitor and Review:
    • Appraisal system for leaders to help assess levels of ‘engagement’ with employees
    • Regular monitoring and review of staff survey results.
    • Monitoring of issues discussed at QVC employee forums
    • Monitoring of key employee relations issues
    • Monitoring of feedback received on our Culture development programme


At first, some people were sceptical about tackling work-related stress. However, HSE’s Management Standards give leaders a practical set of guidelines to relate to: these help with de-mystifying stress by linking it with every day activities. We were also very clear about the difference between pressure and stress and the workshop format makes clear links to managing our own health and wellbeing as well as supporting others.


The biggest impact we believe this programme has had is an increased awareness of stress among line managers. Their feedback on the programme highlights that they feel more equipped to notice potential signs of stress and more confident about what action to take should they suspect a case of stress.

The HR department has reported an increase in proactive discussions between managers and employees about potential stress cases. This also led to more referrals to occupational health before an absence. We have been able to support employees whilst in work and provide upfront support.

Since the programme was delivered to our leaders in January 2009 we have seen a decrease of year on year sickness absence figures at our Knowsley Operation from 5.31% in 2008 and ending the year of 2009 at 4.96%. We have also experienced a 20% decrease of the average number of employees on long term absence between 2008 / 09.

A recent survey of employees indicated that more than 40% believed that the Health & Wellbeing programme has had a positive impact on their life outside of QVC. More than 50% believe it has had a positive impact upon their work life balance and 70% indicated that it has had a positive influence upon their health awareness.

A note from the third party training provider Denise Chilton

QVC selected health and wellbeing specialist and member of the International Stress Management Association, Denise Chilton to design and deliver a one-day training workshop for its leaders.

The focus of the workshop was ‘managing pressure’, explaining its importance, its various effects on individuals and how it differs from stress. Leaders learn more about the early warning signs that show when people are stressed. It also looks at how QVC’s approach fits within the health and safety requirements described in the Management Standards.

Updated 2010-11-23