Employers all at sea when it comes to workplace stress

Mar 24 2005 by Nic Paton Print This Article

More than half of employers have no strategy in place for tackling workplace stress, despite tough guidelines being introduced at the end of last year.

A survey of 1,400 HR managers by trade magazine Human Resources also found nearly half – 48 per cent – did not offer employees access to counselling, employee assistance programmes or information resources.

Recent stress-related court cases have made it clear that offering such services, and communicating this fact to employees and managers alike, can go a long in helping employers defend themselves against workplace stress claims.

Employers also have a legal obligation to ensure that there are effective policies in place to minimise the impact of stress-related illness.

Equally worrying was the finding that more than eight out of 10 of the HR professionals admitted line managers were not given training in spotting the early warning signs of stress, or in how to implement stress-related strategies they may have.

Close to half of those polled – 48 per cent - were unclear about their legal duty to be proactive in tackling stress.

Despite the launch of guidelines on managing stress introduced by the Health and Safety Executive at the end of last year, nearly eight out of 10 – 79 per cent – had not undertaken stress audits to identify the causes of any problems.

Of those that had, just 18 per cent had developed solutions or policies as a result.

“I am amazed at the level of respondents who were either totally unaware or unsure of their legal obligations with regard to stress,” said Rebecca Thornley-Gibson, head of employment law at law firm asb law, which co-authored the survey.

“Perhaps most worrying from a legal perspective is the finding that 60 per cent of respondents do not monitor stress-related absence.

“This information is vital at tribunals when employees claim they have been forced to resign because of a stressful working environment. Without evidence to show that there was not a high level of absence the court will infer that the claimant is correct,” she added.

Trevor Merriden, editor of Human Resources, said: “Employers need to take their heads out of the sand or they are going to find themselves with a workforce that can longer work effectively – and that impacts negatively on the bottom line.”