New advice from Acas on managing stress at work
15 May 2023
Acas has recently published new advice for employers on managing work-related stress following a recent survey showing that one third of British workers believe that their organisation is not effective at doing so. It also found that 63% of employees felt stressed due to the rising cost of living.
Managing work-related stress
The advice sets out that stress can be caused by a variety of factors at work, including too many or conflicting demands, poor working conditions, lack of control, lack of support, bullying and conflict, insufficient training, lack of role clarity, low trust or organisational change. It also notes that life events outside of work can have an impact on work-related stress, including bereavement, divorce, menopause, caring responsibilities, poor health and financial worries.
Employees do not have to tell their employer about their personal problems, but the advice states that if they do, their employer may be able to support them, for example, with counselling services, granting time off, or agreeing to a temporary change in duties or working patterns.
Managers are advised to look for any signs of stress among employees and have a private and informal chat at an early stage to prevent more serious problems. Acas states that managers should be open minded about how the person might be feeling, listen to what they are being told, and try to identify the cause of the stress. When working together on possible solutions, managers may consider signposting any internal or external specialist help or encouraging the employee to complete a ‘wellness action plan’.
Employers must respect confidentiality, although if there is a good reason to do so they must be clear who information will be shared with and why.
If an employee is absent due to stress, the employer should keep a reasonable amount of contact and ensure that a return-to-work meeting takes place.
The law on work-related stress
By law, employers must carry out a risk assessment to protect their employees from stress at work. They should work with their employees to:
· identify the risks of stress;
· decide how to remove or reduce the risks;
· agree what steps to take;
· make any changes to avoid or reduce risks;
· regularly review the plan.
Acas advises that managers should carry out risk assessments for the whole team or by job type on a regular basis. If an employee tells them they are experiencing work-related stress, they should do an individual risk assessment.
Stress on its own is not necessarily classed as a medical condition. But a person is protected from discrimination if they have a long term mental health impairment which has a substantial adverse effect on day-to-day activities and an employer may be under an obligation to make reasonable adjustments in those circumstances.
Supporting employees with work-related stress
To create a positive environment, employers are encouraged to have a clear policy which covers mental health and stress and carry out risk assessments and staff surveys.
Staff should be encouraged to raise concerns and managers should have appropriate training.
Supportive measures may include promoting work-life balance, providing an employee assistance programme (EAP), appointing a mental health first aider or training on stress management techniques.
Employees should also look after their own health and wellbeing at work by increasing their awareness of what causes them stress, taking regular breaks, speaking to their employer about any cause of stress and making use of any support offered.
The support employers offer might include counselling or mental health support through an EAP, a mental health peer support programme or employee support network, and occupational health.
As always, the Employment Team are here to assist you with any queries and can provide template risk assessments and policies.
Please feel free to get in touch.