All employers have legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 to ensure the health safety and welfare at work of their employees. This includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness or injury to employees.

Board members, directors and CEOs

Directors need to consider how they will:

  • monitor factors that might suggest there is a problem with stress-related illness in the business, for example, high rates of absenteeism, staff turnover, poor performance, conflict between staff
  • ensure there is a health and safety policy that addresses the issue of stress in the workplace, including, if appropriate, a stress management strategy
  • ensure effective risk assessments have been carried out, are monitored regularly and any recommendations are being implemented and adequately funded
  • plan for stress-related risks when embarking on significant organisational change

It is important that individuals across the organisation see that their directors or CEO believe in this issue as without their commitment, it is unlikely that measures to tackle this problem will be effective.

Directors’ roles and responsibilities include:

  • to understand what work-related stress is, what causes it and how it can be prevented and managed
  • to champion action to tackle work-related stress – for example, signing communications, attending seminars 
  • To lead by example – demonstrating a commitment to work–life balance initiatives by not working excessive hours
  • to provide commitment to tackling this issue, including providing necessary resources to undertake the management standards or equivalent process and to implement solutions identified
  • to support human resources managers and health and safety managers in taking action to prevent and manage stress

Health and safety managers

HR and health and safety managers have an important role in assisting employers to proactively address work-related stress, and in doing so reduce the likelihood of employees suffering from work-related stress.

Depending on the structure of the organisation, HR and health and safety managers may wish to consider how they will:

  • keep up to date with best practice relating to work-related stress
  • conduct and review risk assessments checklist on conducting effective risk assessment.
  • find out about specific issues that may indicate that risk assessments need reviewing or updating – such as evidence of an employee suffering stress or larger management changes to the business
  • provide information to employees about stress-related illnesses and their obligations to inform managers about risks at work
  • feed back any wider concerns about risks to health from stress at work to board level
  • examine stress as a possible factor in relation to frequent or long-term absenteeism for individual employees
  • identify what medical and other evidence is required to determine whether the employee may have a disability within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination (NI) Order 2006 - if so, consider whether the employee is being treated less favourably for a reason related to the disability and whether there are reasonable adjustments that   could be made
  • report their concerns to appropriate senior personnel while maintaining any obligations of confidentiality.

Health and safety managers are central to processes to prevent and manage stress. They are key to ensuring that the risk of work-related stress is properly identified and managed. They will need to work with their HR department in tackling this issue. Depending on how the organisation divides responsibilities, different tasks may be more the health and safety manager’s responsibility or the HR manager’s responsibility. Health and safety managers’ roles and responsibilities include:

  • to understand what work-related stress is, what causes it and how it can be prevented and managed
  • to engage and communicate with staff about this issue and raise awareness – this may include working with trade unions
  • to undertake the management standards or equivalent approach to identify the hazards and extent of stress in your organisation and what solutions you are going to implement to improve the situation
  • to work with others, including your HR department, in implementing solutions identified by staff
  • to monitor and review solutions and your procedures
  • to ensure you collect evidence of your risk assessment for work-related stress to show inspectors
  • to support line managers in preventing and managing individuals with work-related stress
  • to work with others providing services to support individuals, for example, occupational health services, to identify sources of problems that need action and to manage successful return to work
  • to identify additional policies and initiatives that may promote health and well-being

Human resource managers

Human resources managers are central to processes to prevent and manage stress.

They are key to ensuring that policies and procedures are developed and implemented. They need to work with the health and safety department in tackling stress, and, depending on how the organisation divides responsibilities, different tasks may be the HR manager’s responsibility or the health and safety manager's responsibility. HR managers’ roles and responsibilities include:

  • to understand what work-related stress is, what causes it and how it can be prevented and managed
  • to develop suitable policies to tackle this issue in your organisation
  • to engage and communicate with staff about this issue and raise awareness – this may include working with trade unions
  • to undertake the management standards or equivalent approach to identify the extent of stress in your organisation and what solutions you are going to implement to improve the situation
  • to work with others, including your health and safety department, in implementing solutions identified by staff
  • to monitor and review solutions, and your policies and procedures
  • to support line managers in preventing and managing individuals experiencing stress, including helping them return to work
  • to work with others providing services to support individuals, for example, occupational health services to identify sources of problems that need action and to manage successful return to work
  • to identify additional policies and initiatives that may promote health and well-being.

Line managers

From a line manager's perspective, legal responsibility rests primarily with the ‘employer’ who is responsible not only for action or lack of action at board level but also for all those employed by him.

Line managers have an important role in assisting employers to proactively address work-related stress, and in doing so reduce the likelihood of employees suffering from work-related stress.

Examples of issues line managers may wish to consider include:

  • whether stress may be a factor in relation to frequent or long-term absenteeism for individual employees
  • how they will monitor and address potential sources of stress
  • identify what medical and other evidence is required to determine whether the employee may have a disability within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 - if so, consider whether the employee is being treated less favourably for a reason related to the disability and whether there are reasonable adjustments that could be made
  • report their concerns to appropriate senior personnel while maintaining any obligations of confidentiality.

Line managers are crucial to the successful prevention and management of work-related stress within their team. They tend to be the first port of call when there is a problem and they are in an ideal position to be able to identify and manage stress. But the way they behave can also be part of the problem; if a manager has the appropriate skills they are better able to deal with stress within the team. Line managers’ roles and responsibilities include:

  • to understand what work-related stress is, what causes it and how it can be prevented and managed
  • to engage and communicate with staff about stress and raise awareness
  • to be aware of your organisation’s policies and procedures on this issue
  • to support and get involved in organisational initiatives to tackle stress, for example, encouraging staff to complete questionnaires, attend focus groups or suggest solutions
  • to understand your role in preventing and managing work-related stress, and that you can sometimes cause or exacerbate it
  • to be aware of your competencies in managing and preventing this issue and how this can impact on staff, as well as taking action to improve your competencies
  • to identify potential causes of stress before they become a problem
  • to identify work-related stress in your team members early and work with the individual and human resources in resolving the problem
  • to support staff to prevent work related stress and to help them manage it once it occurs, including providing access to relevant support services
  • to identify and implement solutions that will prevent work-related stress in your teams
  • to help staff return successfully to work after work-related stress successfully
  • to be aware and supportive of factors affecting staff

Employees

Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and of others who may be affected by their actions.

Employees should:

  • inform their employer if they feel the pressure of the job is putting them or anyone else at risk of ill health
  • suggest ways in which the work might be organised to alleviate the stress
  • inform their employer if they are suffering from a medical condition that appears to be long-term and is affecting their ability to carry out day to day tasks, including memory and learning
  • discuss any reasonable adjustments that could be made to assist them in performing their job

HSE has developed management standards which detail good practice in addressing work-related stress.

Employees have a responsibility to raise concerns and tell their manager or representative about possible problems and sources of stress.

If the organisation is not aware of a problem it can be difficult for action to be taken. Employees' roles and responsibilities include:

  • to understand what work-related stress is, what causes it and how it can be prevented and managed
  • to raise awareness about this issue with your colleagues and prevent stigma - this includes taking the issue seriously
  • to be aware of your organisation's policies and procedures on this issue
  • to identify potential causes of stress for yourself or your colleagues before they become a problem and to raise them with your line manager or other suitable individuals, this may include, where appropriate, sources of stress outside of work
  • to identify early when you or your colleagues are beginning to experience excessive pressure that may lead to work-related stress and raise this with your line manager or HR so they can help in resolving the problem
  • to work with your manager or HR department in tackling the issue, for example, identifying solutions you think may help
  • to support and get involved in organisational initiatives to tackle this issue, for example, completing questionnaires, attending focus groups or suggesting solutions
  • to be supportive of colleagues experiencing work-related stress
  • to work with your line manager or HR department in identifying solutions to help you return to work effectively and quickly

Trade union representatives

Trade unions are key to ensuring that an organisation engages with staff over stress and uses staff suggestions in developing its solutions.

Trade union representatives may be the first port of call for staff experiencing problems, particularly if the line management chain is part of the problem. Trade union representatives’ roles and responsibilities include:

  • to understand what work-related stress is, what causes it and how it can be prevented and managed
  • to encourage your organisation to tackle this issue and gain commitment to it
  • to engage and communicate with staff about this issue and raise awareness
  • to work with your organisation in developing an approach, policies and procedures to tackle it, for example, supporting the organisation to undertake the management standards or equivalent approach to identify problem areas and solutions
  • to work with others, including your HR and health and safety department, in implementing solutions identified by staff
  • to monitor and review solutions and your procedures
  • to encourage staff to identify and address sources of stress early and to work with their line manager, your representative or other relevant individuals in doing this
  • to provide support to individuals experiencing work-related stress, help them talk to their line manager about the problem, and direct them to suitable services to help them tackle this issue, for example, occupational health services
  • to work with the organisation in identifying additional policies and initiatives that may promote health and well-being

Occupational health services

Occupational health providers have a particular role in working with individuals who are experiencing work-related stress and helping them remain at work or return to work successfully. However, they also have a role in supporting the organisation by providing access to information to help identify particular problems or trends that may need to be addressed.

Occupational health providers' roles and responsibilities include:

  • to understand what work-related stress is, what causes it and how it can be prevented and managed
  • to provide support to individuals experiencing work related stress, for example, help them talk to their line manager, identify and advise on possible solutions and direct them to suitable additional services
  • to help individuals return to work successfully, for example, by advising on return to work strategies
  • to support the organisation in preventing work-related stress by providing anonymous reports with information about trends and sources of stress they can use to identify solutions
  • to work with the organisation in identifying additional policies and initiatives that may promote health and well-being.

For more information please contact a mental well-being at work advisor