Step 2: Who can be harmed and how
You should assess any gap between your organisation's current performance and that described in HSE's Management Standards. You can do this by gathering and analysing data on the organisation's performance to compare against the Management Standards. You do not have to do extensive analysis of the data.
Most organisations will already have some useful data that can identify the extent to which work-related stress is a problem in the organisation. Typically, most organisations collect data about sickness absence (self-certifications, fit notes etc), staff turnover etc. There will also be information, such as feedback from disciplinary action, staff or union complaints, information from exit interviews, comments made in team meetings or at performance discussions, which may add context.
It is a good idea to use more than one data source and look for correlations between the messages they give. For example, if a single team has a few disciplinary issues, it may indicate:
- poor management
- dissatisfaction with the work
- dissatisfaction with how work is organised
If the same team also has a high staff turnover and sickness absence rate, this may demonstrate a stress problem.
Analysis of data should be combined with organisational knowledge/intelligence to try to identify the underlying causes. For example, does the trend in sickness absence coincide with periods of high work demand? Are more people leaving from one specific department?
Existing sources of information in your organisation
Your organisation may already collect information you can use to give an initial broad indication of whether work-related stress is likely to be a problem. You could use this information to identify 'hot spots' where work-related stress is a particular problem and suggest what the likely underlying causes may be. Possible sources include the following.
Sickness absence data
High levels of sickness absence may indicate a potential problem. Investigate the reason for the absences, but be aware stress-related absence is not always reported as such, because people are reluctant to admit to it, particularly where there is potential for job losses. Also compare the timing of the absence – is it when there are high workloads or just after such periods?
Lower than expected performance (when compared with previous years or between different parts of the organisation) may indicate a problem. Working methods, lack of training, older/unreliable equipment or other conditions could be causing work-related stress and affecting performance.
A higher rate of staff turnover than you would expect in your organisation, or parts of it, may indicate a problem. Do your 'exit interviews' suggest common reasons why people have decided to leave, and if work-related stress was a factor?
Disciplinary or complaint data
Research has shown that managers can be a major source of stress in a team. If a manager is treating people unfairly or is unable to control workloads coming to their area, it can lead to disputes within the team that could result in disciplinary action around bullying and harassment. It can also result in poor customer service that leads to more complaints.
Stress can affect people's ability to properly concentrate and symptoms of stress include difficulty in sleeping which can result in tiredness, because of this there may be a rise in the number of accidents and near misses.
Occupational health or employee assistance programme data
For organisations with occupational health provision for employees or employee assistance programmes it should be possible to get statistics on the number of people with work-related stress issues, or who are diagnosed with such issues or associated conditions.
Feedback from staff
You can find out if problems exist by talking to your staff. In smaller organisations this may be as easy as having a chat but in larger organisations there will often be pre-existing meetings set aside for discussing individual or team performance – use these meetings, maybe add an agenda item on 'stress' or 'workloads'.
- Performance appraisals - these could offer an opportunity to have a one-to-one discussion about work and to explore whether individuals are experiencing excessive pressure
- Team meetings - these can provide useful opportunities for team members to identify and share views on current issues that may be potential sources of undue pressure, for example workloads, procedural/systemic issues
- Informal talks to staff - you can try to find out the mood of individuals or the team. If people seem continually unhappy, are not themselves, or performing poorly, ask if there is a problem
- Trade(s) union contact – if you have union representation you could have specific discussions on whether work-related stress has been raised with them as a problem generally or for any individual or team
- 'Walk-throughs' - walking through a section and observing work processes may offer an opportunity to assess whether there are any obvious aspects of the job, such as the way it is done, the pace of work, or working conditions, causing excessive pressure. This is most effective if done in combination with a talk-through
- 'Talk-throughs' - these involve asking someone to describe what happens when a task is carried out. They can be used to get employees to think about whether tasks have the potential to lead to work-related stress
The Management Standards approach suggests using a survey as one (but not the only) source of information on whether work-related stress appears to be a potential problem for your workforce and, if so, who is likely to be affected and how. A survey is not an essential step and for smaller organisations it would not be proportionate to run such a survey, particularly where the same data can be gathered in other ways.
The HSE Management Standards Indicator Tool
The HSE Management Standards approach includes a survey tool, called the HSE Management Standards Indicator Tool that can be distributed to employees. The survey consists of 35 questions about 'working conditions' known to be potential causes of work- related stress, which correspond to the six Management Standards. The employee answers according to how they feel about their work - gathering the opinions of individual employees can be a useful indicator of the health of your organisation, and potential sources of work-related stress.
Remember, even senior managers are employees and can be affected by stress, so include them in the survey. Survey all of your staff in all areas, don't make any assumptions about who may be under pressure.
For larger organisations, you may want to include additional 'demographic' questions to allow the results to be interrogated. For example an NHS trust may want to see results from individual hospitals or the relative level of work-related stress in doctors or nursing staff, by asking questions about where people work and their job title, this can be achieved.
All responses can then be compiled into the Excel-based HSE Management Standards Analysis Tool. The tool produces an analysis of the scores given in responses, giving an average figure for each of the six Management Standards between 1 (poor performance) and 5 (achieving the standard).
You can also use the Management Standards survey tools as part of a customised 'pick and mix' approach. The ways you can do this are described in the HSE Management Standards Indicator Tool manual.
If you plan to use your own surveys
You may like to use your own survey tool such as an existing annual employee survey or survey of working conditions to investigate whether work-related stress is likely to be a problem for your workforce, who is likely to be harmed and how.
If you do plan to do this, you need to:
- assess whether your survey covers all the relevant areas that are potential causes of stress for your workforce. For example which questions cover each of the six Management Standard areas?
- identify if there are gaps. Do you need to add additional questions? Or could you gather information about these areas in different ways, for example by discussing them with your employees?
Whether you use your own survey approach or the HSE Management Standards approach, the next step, communicating the results, is equally important.
Communicating your findings
Once you have conducted and analysed your survey, you should communicate the findings to the board, and the steering group. You should compare the findings with the other data you have been considering to see whether it is giving similar results or adding issues to consider.
You also need to communicate the findings to the workforce and their representatives.
A survey is only the start of the risk assessment process and a broad indicator of the situation in an organisation. It is intended to provide a starting point rather than giving a clear diagnosis of all the likely sources of work-related stress.
If there are areas for action, these can form the basis of discussions with focus groups and a useful guide for future actions.
You should not use surveys in isolation, but with other sources of information, to give you a more informed picture. Be sure to keep managers, staff representatives, trade unions and employees fully consulted and informed throughout the survey process so that the figures do not come as a shock.
Other ways of obtaining information about groups
- You may already have ways of encouraging participation and consulting with employees, for example toolbox talks and routine practical talks when work is planned
- In organisations with a small number of employees, it may be more appropriate to explore, in small groups, issues related to working conditions
- Focus groups can provide an opportunity to explore work-related stress issues in more depth, with more time set aside for such discussions than may be available in team meetings
- They also allow you to explore common issues across groups with shared interests that might not normally come together as members of teams. They can be particularly useful if you want to find out what specific groups of people think about their work
- The Management Standards approach suggests that focus groups are used to evaluate the risk by exploring problems and developing solutions
- Smaller organisations, in particular, may find it more useful to use such group approaches as part of the earlier stage of the risk assessment process
Step 3: Evaluate the risks will take you through the next stage of the approach.