United Biscuits is a leading European manufacturer of biscuits and bagged snacks. It has 14 geographical locations in the UK with a revenue of £1.1 billion in 2007.
Following an initial presentation on the importance of tackling work related stress, the United Biscuits Management Board developed and promoted a stress policy within their organisation. This policy required annual site risk assessments to be conducted to monitor stress levels within United Biscuits. In addition, they maintained an internal routine health surveillance system, which identified and distinguished work-related disorders (e.g. mental health and asthma) from non-work related issues. This was used to monitor ‘organisational health’ trends after the policy was introduced. HR and Occupational Health teams gathered data on staff turnover, claims, absenteeism, and ‘stress’ cases to identify ‘hot spots’ which may be the result of stress. Then the procedures for managing individual cases of stress, as summarised below, were introduced for line managers, HR and Occupational Health professionals.
The HSE Indicator Tool (35 questions related to the six Management Standards) was administered in two departments. In addition, United Biscuits incorporated questions into their annual staff survey to address all six HSE identified risk factors - Demands, Control, Support (managers & peers), Relations, Role and Change.
Results were communicated to all United Biscuits staff, with action plans discussed in employee liaison groups. This led to a simplification of data collection and regular team meetings with managers. In addition, in-house training on stress management was introduced for managers.
An initial challenge was persuading the company to accept stress as an important business issue. In addition, ensuring that all line managers received training on managing stress. In hindsight, greater benefits would have been achieved if trade unions representatives had been involved in the development of the policy at the beginning of the process.
"One of the main challenges was for the company to accept that stress was important - it is now accepted as a business issue that can be managed."
Clive Harker - Occupational Physician
The Board acknowledging stress and mental health problems was an important step and created the framework for success. The incorporation of the Management Standards approach into organisational policy helped United Biscuits to identify and manage complex cases (e.g. work and domestic pressures with associated common mental health disorders) and monitor continuous improvement with a specific focus on hot spots.