Before you start the Management Standards approach

Prepare your organisation

Before you start to implement the Management Standards approach, it is essential that you ensure that the resource, support and infrastructure for the project are in place. To do this you should:

  • secure commitment, particularly senior managers' approval and support for tackling the issue and committing adequate resources, in particular, staff time
  • secure commitment from employees and their representatives
  • consider the need to establish, and membership of a steering group
  • consider the project planning and its continuing administration
  • consider the timing and mechanism for communicating policies
  • if appropriate, develop an organisational stress policy
  • record what you have done

Secure commitment

Many employers have already recognised that they should tackle stress at work and may be taking some action, so you may already have some idea about what factors will secure commitment at the highest level in your organisation. However to maximise the impact of a business case, the following information may be useful.

The legal case: The law requires employers to tackle work-related stress

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities, as with any other hazard. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires an employer to take measures to control that risk.

The business case: Tackling stress brings business benefits

When preparing a business case, there is a tendency to focus only on the direct cost of an employee being absent. Research has shown that work-related stress has an adverse effect for organisations in terms of:

  • maintaining business output and performance
  • staff performance and productivity
  • staff turnover and intention to leave
  • attendance levels
  • staff recruitment and retention
  • customer satisfaction
  • organisational image and reputation
  • potential litigation

Many of these issues will have associated costs, such as arranging suitable replacement bank staff in health care or supply teachers.

Also, think about the impact work-related stress could have on the unit or team. For example, losing one colleague for an extended period with a stress-related illness can have a dramatic impact on the workload and morale of the rest of the team, particularly in smaller teams.

The key message here is that, left unchecked, the cost associated with work-related stress and ill health to the business will continue to grow. Tackling this issue has the potential to stem these losses and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation.

Moral case: Tackling stress prevents ill health

Prolonged periods of stress, including work-related stress, have an adverse effect on health, with strong links between stress and physical conditions, such as heart disease, back pain, headaches, gastrointestinal problems and psychological effects, such as anxiety and depression.

Stress can also lead to other behaviours that are harmful to health, such as drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, drug abuse or smoking.

Tackling the causes of stress before they lead to ill health can prevent harm.

How can you secure commitment from employees and their representatives?

The Management Standards approach encourages joint working between management and employees, either directly or via their representatives, to tackle the causes of work-related stress.

Staff are only likely to take part if senior managers show commitment too. To successfully implement the approach, managers and employees should work together, both to identify the issues/stressors and develop solutions.

Employees, who do the work and understand what causes any problems, are often best placed to suggest ways the task could be improved - employers won't know until they ask them. To get employees involved, you should:

  • tell them why you are taking action and emphasise management commitment to making the workplace safer
  • involve employees and their representatives, for example trade union and health and safety representatives:
    • at the beginning of the process
    • in any groups you set up to take the work forward
    • in identifying the problems and the solutions
    • in monitoring any interventions
  • inform employees about what you are doing to make changes. If you decide to prioritise your efforts to a limited area of your organisation, tell people and explain why.

Steering groups

Smaller organisations may not need a formal steering group, where they can gather information in simpler ways. But larger organisations will benefit from having  a representative group to steer and drive the project - this may be a pre-existing working group, for example a health and safety committee. This:

  • will allow the workload to be shared
  • allows you to include more people's view
  • means the project won't rely on a single person

There is no one right way to organise a steering group, as management structures and cultures will vary between and within different sectors of employment.

For some organisations, it may be helpful to have sub-groups of the main steering group that reflect their specific organisational structure. For example an organisation may have departments or branches that have semi-autonomous management structures. In these cases, using sub-groups to steer the process may help. Representatives from these sub-groups should attend the main steering group to feed back and share information.

Who should be part of a steering group?

Typical members of a steering group are:

  • senior managers
  • employee or their representatives
  • trade union representatives
  • health and safety managers
  • human resources representatives
  • occupational health representatives
  • line managers

What are the key activities of a steering group?

The main function is to oversee and facilitate the implementation of the Management Standards approach, acting as a project management group or board. Key activities include:

  • project naming
  • project management
  • planning
  • securing and managing resources
  • marketing
  • managing communications
  • monitoring progress
  • approving action plans
  • generating and approving management reports

Top tips from users:

  • Have people with the capacity to carry out the actions from steering group meetings
  • Have someone on the group with project management experience, if possible
  • Involve unions
  • The 'steering group' is key - it should have individuals who are keen to make a contribution and make the project work
  • You should have a team who can be mutually supportive
  • If a structured steering group is used to drive the project, resources can be kept to a reasonable level

Key roles within the steering group

There are two key roles you should try to include in a steering group:

The 'project champion':

  • should be a director in the area that has responsibility for sickness absence and/or health and safety
  • acts as the representative of the project at the board and updates it on progress
  • actively promotes the project and its remit
  • ensures the project is adequately resourced

The 'day-to-day champion':

  • takes the role of project manager
  • organises and facilitates meetings
  • documents decisions, to provide an audit trail
  • keeps the project on schedule and on budget
  • is typically a health and safety manager, HR professional or, in some cases, an occupational health professional

Plan the project

Don't overlook planning. You should check what you already have in place. Don't reinvent the wheel or start from scratch. There will be existing policies, procedures and initiatives that can be used to achieve some of the steps. Implementation of the approach will not happen in a vacuum and there may be other activities to consider when preparing a plan, for example if there are changes planned for the near future, how will these impact your plans and, if possible, factor these in.

Top tips from users:

  • Start small and grow: for large organisations it may be useful to pilot the approach in a section of the organisation so they can learn from experience before rolling it out globally
  • Don't use ongoing change as an excuse: change is almost a constant in some sectors, this should not be used as an excuse for not taking action
  • Get the timing right: ensure that key activities such as surveys and focus groups are not scheduled for peak holiday or busy periods where employees may not be able to participate
  • Planning experience: if available, co-opt someone with project planning experience onto the steering group
  • Forward planning: stop and think about what is involved in each step of the process and plan ahead. You should  break down the process into manageable chunks
  • Resources: the plan should be resourced. Failure to do so can cause unnecessary delays and loss of momentum. Most importantly, ensure interventions are adequately resourced
  • Be realistic: make sure the plan is achievable. Dates for completion and deliverables from the activities should be realistic

Communications and policies

The Management Standards approach requires the participation and input of different groups of employees. Effective communications play a vital part in engaging them, providing them with timely information and providing a channel for their views.

To be effective, communication should go both ways, so you should listen to the views of employees and answer their concerns.

Many users have developed a 'communication strategy' to run throughout their implementation of the approach - this typically includes considering 'what' will be communicated and the 'how' and 'when' of the communication activities.

What to communicate

What is communicated will to depend on your organisational structure and the way you choose to implement each step of the approach, but is likely to include:

  • messages from the board, or equivalent, demonstrating its support for the project
  • project objectives and terms of reference
  • a project plan
  • a timetable for employee involvement - surveys, focus groups etc
  • names of steering group members
  • how to volunteer to participate in activities, including the steering group
  • a nominated contact person for the project
  • results from staff surveys
  • action plans
  • progress updates

How to communicate

You should consider if workers can access the communication channels you choose. Consider both how easy the channel is to access and, more importantly, its effectiveness.

Use multiple channels and ensure the message is rich in content. Be innovative and get people involved in developing communications – you could have a competition to design a slogan or poster for the project, for example.

Communication channels to consider include:

  • briefings via existing networks (team meetings etc)
  • an intranet bulletin board
  • email - check who has access and consider how to reach others
  • adding the topic to the agenda of regular meetings and asking for feedback
  • noticeboards/posters
  • existing staff newsletters
  • leaflets
  • individual memos or letters
  • using trade union communication routes to show their support too

When to communicate

Consider appropriate timing as part of your communication strategy. Whatever schedule you decide, stick to it. Leaving an information vacuum can seriously undermine a project, as the vacuum may be quickly filled with rumours and misinformation that may be hard to counter.

Avoid times where the organisation is particularly busy, for example with seasonal pressures or holiday periods when fewer staff will be around. Don't forget those who are not in work (on maternity leave or off sick) or who work away from a base frequently.

'A 'rumour handler' was appointed who was trusted by staff and could be contacted to check the validity of the current rumour.'
NHS Trust

Step 1: Identify the risk factors takes you through the first step in the Management Standards approach.

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Updated 2021-05-11