How to implement the management standards for tackling work-related stress

Before you begin the process it is important that members of the steering group, and all others involved in the process, understand the risk factors and how they translate to your organisation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has identified these as the 'management standards'.

What are the management standards for work-related stress?

The management standards approach focuses on tackling work-related stress at an organisational level rather than individual cases. 

Step 1 - Identify the risk factors

The management standards highlight the six main risk factors for work- related stress

  • demands
  • control
  • support
  • relationships
  • role
  • change

The ‘states to be achieved’ that accompany each of the standards highlight good management practice in each of these areas.

Reference to each of the ‘states to be achieved’ should be made at each step of the management standards approach.

The ‘states to be achieved’ describe the organisational behaviour that must be present to achieve the respective standard. They describe good management practice in each of the six areas of the management standards.

Understand how the management standards translate to your organisation

The six broad risk factors overlap each other to some extent, and they do not always act on their own often they combine or interact. Try to think of the issue of 'job design' as a whole as much as you can. Avoid trying to take action on one element of work at a time. A total approach, bearing in mind the influence of the other factors, is likely to produce the best result. 

By necessity the states to be achieved are high level and aspirational. It is useful at this stage to consider how these statements could be applied in your operational situation. That is, what would a particular state look like in your organisation? The HSE does not expect every employer to meet all the standards at their first attempt. They represent the target for the organisation, goals that employers should be working towards through an ongoing process of risk assessment and continuous improvement.

Focus on organisational level issues

When assessing the risks to which your employees may be exposed it is important to focus on organisational level issues that have the potential to impact on group and possibly large numbers of employees, rather than individual employees.


Before you begin the next step you should have ensured that members of the steering group and all others involved in running the risk assessment process have a clear understanding of the management standards approach or your own risk assessment approach, including:

  • the six broad risk factors for work-related stress
  • how the approach translates to your organisation
  • how to compare your organisation's performance with the 'good management practice' the approach represents
  • risks for work-related stress that may be specific to your organisation or workplace
  • focusing on preventing and managing the root causes of work- related stress
  • focusing on exploring organisational level issues 

Step 2 - Decide who can be harmed and how

Several sources of data, information and knowledge can be used to identify the extent to which work related stress is a problem in your organisation.

Most organisations have significant amounts of qualitative and quantitative data that, when properly collated and analysed, can provide useful information to be used in the management standards approach

This is the first step in assessing any gap between your organisation’s current performance and that described by the management standards as the states to be achieved. The main sources include: 

  • existing sources of information or data that may already be readily available within your organisation
  • surveys
  • other ways of obtaining information about groups
  • other initiatives you are involved in


Before you begin the next step you should have:

  • acknowledged that work related stress has the potential to affect any member of staff
  • considered the data available to you to indicate any potential problem areas
  • carried out a preliminary analysis comparing your performance against the management standards 'States to be achieved'
  • identified areas of current good practice and areas where your organisation appears to be performing less well
  • recorded what you have done

Step 3 - Evaluate the risks

The primary aim of this step is to take the output from the previous step, data collection and analysis, discuss the conclusions with a representative sample of employees and work with them to develop solutions.

Data analysis can only provide a broad indication of the underlying issues affecting the health of employees. If you want to know what is affecting employees you have to ask them! Our experience has demonstrated that in order for the process to run efficiently and without delay, employee selection should be made along side the survey being carried out.

How you choose to evaluate the risks will be dictated by your organisational structure and the way you have chosen to follow the management standards approach.

Why focus groups are helpful

Focus groups can be helpful because:

  • issues highlighted as important in Step 2 may not turn out to be the most important issues for your employees
  • even when the data appear to suggest clear hot spots, it is important to check this out with your employees
  • new issues often emerge during these group discussions - these may reflect more recent changes in working conditions (for example, as a result of organisational change) - however, it can also be because group techniques such as focus groups allow employees to discuss, analyse and articulate issues in ways that they may not previously have had the opportunity to do

Link problems to solutions using focus groups

Focus groups, or similar discussion groups, also allow you to explore possible solutions to problems.

It is critical that your employees and their representatives participate in this process as:

  • they are often closest to the issues identified
  • they may know better what will work and what will not work in practice
  • they are more likely to help ensure the success of any agreed actions if they have taken an active part in developing and agreeing solutions

Groups of between six and ten people work best, but the numbers of your employees involved in this stage will depend on the size of your organisation and local circumstances.

During the focus group or discussion group, you may find it useful to consider the 'states to be achieved' of the management standards, and whether this good practice is actually happening in your organisation. You may find that this can help provide structure to some of your discussions.

For further information on setting up and running focus groups see 'How to organise and run focus groups'

If you use your own approaches to consultation with staff and their representatives and not focus groups, it is important that all stakeholders (management, employees and their representatives) are represented in any consultation process and have a route into any forum used.

Develop focus group action plans

A key output from the focus group would be a proposed or preliminary action plan, containing suggestions and recommendations for action at different levels of the organisation.

Since there are likely to be a number of different preliminary action plans produced by different focus groups, it is likely that these will have to be reviewed and turned into an action plan for the organisation.

For more information on this see Step 4 – Developing an action plan.

Communicate the results

You should keep management, employees and their representatives updated as you go through this process. For example, it is a good idea to share with focus group participants the outcome of the focus groups soon afterward.

Dealing with individual concerns

Your surveys and focus groups may identify that some individuals are experiencing problems that the majority of employees are not. You have a duty of care to protect the health and well-being of these individuals, too.

It is essential that you develop ways for employees to raise their concerns. These could include:

  • create an environment where employees are encouraged to talk, both formally and informally, to their manager or another person in their management chain
  • remind employees that they can speak to trade union representatives, health and safety representatives, or human resources
  • encourage employees to talk to someone in the organisation or seek advice from occupational health advisors, or their GP if they are concerned about their health
  • introduce mentoring and other forms of co-worker support
  • provide employee assistance (counselling) services

There is information available in the managing work-related stress sections on how you can respond to individual employee concerns.


If you are following the management standards approach, before you begin the next stage, you should:

  • consult employees to discuss problem areas in more detail
  • work in partnership with employees and their representatives to develop actions to take
  • ensure that issues affecting individuals are addressed
  • feed back results to managers, employees and employee representatives, with a commitment to follow-up
  • record what you have done

Step 4 - Record your findings

By now you will have consulted your employees, explored areas of concern and taken some initial steps to develop some proposed solutions. It is important that you record your findings – to do this you could produce and disseminate an action plan. 

An action plan will:

  • help you set goals to work towards
  • help you to prioritise
  • demonstrate that you are serious about addressing employees' concerns
  • provide you with something to evaluate and review against

Develop your action plan(s)

The steering group should be responsible for collating the relevant sections of the various preliminary action plans into an overall action plan for the organisation, or part of the organisation.

The steering group may want to focus on the strategic, organisational actions in developing an overall action plan. You may also find it useful to have sections aimed at different levels of the organisation.

When formulating your action plans it is important to ensure that the actions suggested:

  • are given an order of priority
  • have sufficient resources allocated to them
  • are assigned to an individual or function
  • have an agreed timescale for completion

You might find the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) acronym useful.

There is no prescribed method or format for an action plan. However, here is a template that you may want to use.

You need to agree the action plan with employees, senior management and employee representatives, and also share the final plan with employees.

Implement your action plan(s)

To realise any benefits, the agreed and approved overall action plan and any lower level plans should be implemented as planned. Depending on the level of the plans, for example board, department or team, actions may be implemented at the appropriate levels within the organisation.

Procedures should be in place to record actions taken, plans developed and to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of specific actions.


Before you begin the next stage, you should:

  • create and agree with senior management, employees and their representatives an overall action plan for the implementation of solutions
  • share your action plan with all employees, including dates for monitoring and review
  • begin the process of implementing the action plan and any lower level plans
  • record actions taken

Step 5 - Monitor and review

You should review any action you take to tackle the sources of excessive workplace pressure. 

You need to:

  • monitor against your action plan to ensure the agreed actions are taking place
  • evaluate the effectiveness of the solutions you implement
  • decide what further action or data gathering, if any, is needed

Monitor and record progress against your Action Plan

You should periodically check that agreed actions are being undertaken, for example, that meetings are being held, or that there is evidence that certain activities have taken place.

It is important to make a record of this progress against your action plan.

Evaluate the effectiveness of solutions

The timescale within which you evaluate any solutions will depend on what kind of solutions you have developed. How long actions take to deliver their expected ’measurable’ outcomes can vary greatly.

The timing of your reviews will depend on how long it will take to implement each action and how long the focus group and the steering group expect it will take to have any impact.

Methods of gathering information and data

The methods of gathering information and data to evaluate the effectiveness of solutions will again depend on the kind of solutions you have developed.

It is important to ask your employees whether they feel the solutions are having the desired effect.

You may find it useful to use a mixture of approaches to consult staff, for example:

  • set up specific meetings to review progress on major actions
  • set up regular sessions to talk with your staff about sources of work-related pressure, for example, as part of team meetings
  • make use of informal contacts with staff to ask about the effectiveness of solutions

Gather data

Another way to demonstrate the effectiveness of your plan is to collect data on such things as employee turnover, sickness absence and productivity, and to measure progress against emerging trends or changes in this data.

Follow-up surveys

One way to measure progress is to repeat the Management Standards survey or other survey you may have used as part of Step 2.

The management standards approach suggests that you do this after a period of time as part of the 'continuous improvement' model.

You may wish to set this up as an annual survey or as part of an annual survey.


As part of Step 5 you should:

  • monitor against your action plans to ensure that agreed actions are taking place
  • evaluate the effectiveness of the solutions you implemented
  • decide what further action or data gathering, if any, is needed

You have now completed all the steps in the HSE Management Standards risk assessment approach.