Preparing the organisation

The first stage in dealing with work-related stress is to accept it exists and it needs to be addressed. This is an important aspect of gaining the commitment of people at all levels within the organisation to work together to resolve the issue using the management standards approach.

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. Securing commitment is important to the managing standards process.

Data indicates that the performance of individual employees and the organisation as a whole can be improved by effective management of the main risk factors for work-related stress.

The approach depends very much on both senior management commitment and worker involvement throughout the process. Staff are only likely to take part if senior managers demonstrate their commitment to managing the causes of work related stress.

If you can successfully secure senior management commitment you should be able to show that:

  • senior management are visibly demonstrating support and participating in communication activities
  • resources are being allocated, for example extra funding or time
  • authority is being delegated to relevant groups, for example a steering group

How can we secure management commitment?

It is often said there are three types of arguments that are used to persuade management to commit to a particular issue, these are:

  • Business case: this typically looks at the current cost related to an issue along with the costs associated with the proposed initiative for tackling the issue and of course the financial benefits as an outcome
  • Moral case: many organisations using the Management Standards approach have initially started at this point, that is there has been a realisation, based on occupational health data, that work is making people ill - this data has also been used in the preparation of the business case
  • Legal case: there is a clear legal requirement laid out in the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and take reasonably practicable steps to address the risk identified in the risk assessment

Further information on building a business case

How can we secure commitment from employees and their representatives?

You could try to:

  • involve employee representatives (e.g. trade union and health and safety representatives) at the beginning of the process
  • involve employees and their representatives in any groups you set up to take the work forward
  • if you decide to confine your efforts to a limited section of your organisation, consider how best to inform other employees

Establishing and membership of 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. It is, however, important to have a representative group to steer and drive your action forward. It is also possible to utilise an existing working group or groups to carry out the functions of a steering group as described here.

Some users of the Management Standards approach have set up multiple sub-groups of the main steering group that reflect their specific organisational structure. For example, an organisation may have specific directorates or departments that have semi-autonomous management structures in such cases the use of sub-groups to steer the process is appropriate.

Who should be part of a steering group?

Typical members of a steering group are:

  • senior management
  • employee representative
  • trade union representative
  • health and safety manager
  • human resources representative
  • occupational health person
  • line manager

What are the key activities of a steering group?

The main function is to oversee and facilitate the Management Standards project, 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 do actions that result 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

After you have set up a steering group, the project should be planned, resources allocated and communications strategies set out with details of how you will engage with staff.

There is a more detailed guide available to setting up and running steering groups.

Plan of the project

The planning of activities that make up the Management Standards approach is an important step that should not be overlooked.

It should also be remembered that the implementation of the approach will not happen in a vacuum there may be other activities happening that need to be considered when preparing a plan.

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 these will 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 their organisation so they can learn from experience before rolling it out across the whole organisation
  • 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 other 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, this can prevent future delays. You need to break the process down into manageable chunks
  • resources: the plan should be resourced. Failure to adequately resource the plan can result in unnecessary delays and loss of momentum. Most importantly, ensure interventions are adequately resourced
  • be realistic: make sure the plan is achievable and that dates for completion and the deliverables, from the activities are realistic

Communication of policies

The Management Standards approach requires the participation and input of different groups of employees. Effective communications play a vital part in engaging with employees providing them with timely information and also providing a conduit 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 consideration of 'what' will be communicated 'how' and the 'timing' of the communication activities.

What to communicate

What information is communicated will to some extent depend on your organisations structure and the way you choose to implement each step of the Management Standards 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.

The golden rule is not to use a single method of communication but use multiple channels and ensure the message is rich in content. Be innovative and get people involved in developing communications – for example you could have a competition to design a slogan or poster for the project.

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.

Full guidance can be found:

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