Work-related stress: special advice for small businesses

These pages are for people that work in or for small to medium enterprises (SMEs). These are defined as organisations that employ between five and 250 people.
Those in authority are essential to promoting health and well-being within the company. If they support positive beliefs and attitudes it sets the tone and culture of the organisation, especially when sensitive issues like stress and mental health are discussed.

Overview of HSENI approach for small organisations

HSENI have a risk assessment tool, initially designed for organisations with fifty or more staff. Completing this process allows organisations to carry out a formal risk assessment for work-related stress. image courtesy of HSE

The management standards approach is based on the ‘five steps to risk assessment’.  This approach methodically breaks down the area’s which can cause stress in the workplace into – demands, control, support, relationships, role, and change.

Business case for addressing stress

Stress can have even greater effect on a small business compared to larger firms as they do not have the same staffing resources to absorb the void left when a member of staff is off on sick leave or leaves the firm altogether.

The costs to the business can include any or all of the following: -

  • loss of the person’s expertise
  • possible production delays
  • the financial cost to cover the absence in sickness pay
  • extra wages for new or temporary staff
  • overtime for staff to cover the post
  • possible loss of business reputation or contracts and any associated legal costs with civil claims

Legal case for addressing stress

Employers have a legal duty:

Moral case for addressing stress

Small business owners are now more aware that sometimes aspects of their business can make staff ill, and that it is incumbent on the business owner to put in place systems to ensure the health of their workers.

It therefore makes good business sense to look at the current cost of an issue such as stress and work out how much it would cost to tackle it and the financial benefits as an outcome.

How small businesses can address work-related stress

Make sure your business supports effective actions to enhance well-being. For mental health to flourish in a business risk factors must be reduced and protective measures enhanced, including:

  • visible commitment to good management practices
  • adopt and adhere to formal policies on stress and mental health
  • encourage a culture of openness in relation to mental health issues and thus address stigma
  • assess the risk and potential causes of stress within your organisation for example with the help of HSE’s Management Standards
  • draw up action plans to promote mental well-being and reduce stress
  • offer interventions to promote mental well-being or rehabilitate staff which may include employee assistance programmes or cognitive behaviour therapy
  • provide information and training

The above actions will help promote a motivated and productive workforce with a positive sense of well-being.

Typical action plan

A typical action plan when using the management standards risk assessment approach will:

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

Action plans are a key part of your risk assessment and it is recommended that you include the following information:

  • what the problem is
  • how the problem was identified
  • what you are going to do in response
  • how you arrived at this solution
  • some key milestones and dates for them to be reached
  • a commitment to provide feedback to employees on progress
  • a date for reviewing against the plan

The actions suggested should:

  • be given an order of priority
  • have sufficient resources allocated to them
  • be assigned to an individual or function
  • have an agreed timescale for completion
  • use SMART objectives – (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time bound)

Checking your progress

  • 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


HSENI can tailor the management standards approach to suit any size of organisation. For more advice and information contact a Mental Well-being at Work Advisor