Policy on the prevention and management of work-related stress

The University of Oxford seeks to maintain a positive and supportive working environment for all its staff. It recognises that excessive or prolonged pressure in the workplace can have a negative impact on the organisation and individuals, and that this can be prevented and alleviated through appropriate action on the part of individuals and their managers. This policy aims to establish standards for managers and staff on the prevention and management of work-related stress. It provides guidance to managers and supervisors to facilitate the implementation of these standards, as well as information on sources of support available to individuals experiencing feelings of stress.

Definition

The University adopts the definition of stress used by Health and Safety Executive (HSE), namely "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them", and which draws a clear distinction between pressure, which can be a motivating factor, and stress, which can occur when pressure becomes excessive.

Stress is a state, not an illness, and where stress lasts for only a short time there is usually no lasting effect. However, if the stress is sustained over a longer period it can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, work performance, and morale. Reducing and preventing work-related stress therefore brings clear benefits to the employer as well as to staff. The University has adopted the approach to the management and prevention of stress recommended by the HSE, which is based on the HSE's 'management standards'.

Prevention

The University recognises that it has a duty of care towards its staff and a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment.

Organisational arrangements

The University aims to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that staff work in a positive, safe, and supportive working environment by seeking to:

  • promote sound management practice;
  • provide a framework of employment, health, and safety policies systems and monitoring to support managers and staff to ensure effective work performance and minimise the risk of work-related stress;
  • provide advice and information to staff about stress in order to promote preventative measures and ensure early intervention in cases of work-related stress;
  • promote equality of opportunity, and provide a workplace free from harassment and bullying;
  • foster effective workload allocation and feedback on performance;
  • promote good communication throughout the University;
  • provide information and training to enable staff to develop their skills and maximise their contribution to the success of the University;
  • ensure effective and timely consultation with staff representatives (staff representatives include trade union representatives, safety representatives, and staff representatives serving on consultative bodies.) on proposed actions relating to the prevention of work-related stress;
  • recognise the positive role that staff representatives can play in the prevention and management of work-related stress by ensuring their effective and timely involvement in the monitoring and review of the University's policy on work-related stress through the joint committees with staff representatives and the Consultative Committee for Health and Safety;
  • provide appropriate employee support services.

Managers' responsibilities

Managers and supervisors play an important role in facilitating and supporting staff to carry out their jobs effectively and to contribute to the success of the department and of the University. In order to minimise the risk of work-related stress, managers should:

  • ensure good communications, particularly where there are organisational or procedural changes;
  • ensure that jobs are properly designed, with realistic demands and workload, and that expectations and job role are clear;
  • ensure that staff are trained to undertake the demands of their job and are able to contribute to decisions about how the job is done;
  • ensure that there are regular opportunities to discuss the work and obtain feedback on performance, eg regular one-to-one meetings and/or team meetings;
  • monitor working hours and holidays to ensure that staff are not overworking and are taking appropriate breaks;
  • identify or respond to issues of concern promptly and seek constructive solutions;
  • ensure staff are provided with meaningful training and development opportunities;
  • ensure that bullying and harassment are not tolerated;
  • be alert to signs of problems and offer additional support to any member of staff who is known to be experiencing stress;
  • seek advice and support at an early stage from Personnel Services if difficulties arise.

It is sometimes necessary for managers to invoke disciplinary procedures to address poor performance or conduct, and to protect other staff from the adverse effects of such under-performance. It is recognised that the prospect of disciplinary proceedings or the proceedings themselves may be stressful for the staff involved. This should not of itself prevent managers from pursuing legitimate management action: indeed lengthy delays in the disciplinary process may aggravate stress. Line managers should, however, seek advice if necessary from Personnel Services and/or the Occupational Health Services as to how to support the member of staff concerned while the disciplinary process is in progress to mitigate the effects of any stress. Similar advice may be necessary in the context of the grievance procedure.

The HSE Management Standards

The HSE has identified six key "Management Standards" that represent a set of conditions that reflect high levels of health, well-being, and organisational performance. These management standards provide a practical framework which organisations can use to minimise the impact of work-related stress. The Management Standards are given in full here and summarised below

 HSE management standard
Demands Staff are able to cope with the demands of the job
Control Staff are able to have a say about the way work is done
Support Staff receive adequate information and support from colleagues and superiors
Relationships Staff are not subjected to unacceptable behaviours, e.g. bullying or harassment at work
Roles Staff understand their role and responsibilities
Change Staff are involved in and consulted about any organisational changes

The checklist, based on the HSE management standards, is intended to provide managers and staff with guidance on the practical steps they can take to identify and address potential sources of workplace stress.

These standards should be considered in all strategic or work activities whether at institutional or departmental level.

Risk Identification and Assessment

All staff may experience periods of pressure at work at some time, and short periods of pressure are not necessarily of concern. It is the risk from sustained and/or excessive pressure, without the opportunity to recover, that needs to be assessed and measures put in place to control the risk of adverse effects.

Major University-wide initiatives should always include an assessment of the potential for work-related stress, and how this can be mitigated, for example, by the provision of appropriate training and support, ensuring effective and timely communication, by giving consideration to the timing of new initiatives to avoid conflicting deadlines and priorities, by ensuring the demands on staff are not otherwise excessive, and by seeking to ensure a supportive management culture.

Similarly, departmental managers should have arrangements in place to identify and address potential stressors in the workplace - for example, regular review of sickness absence records/certificates, particularly those indicating stress, data on staff turnover, trends emerging from personal development reviews (appraisals), and issues raised in individual and staff meetings and by local staff representatives. Where workplace stressors need to be assessed on an individual basis, however, the HSE management standards provide a useful broad template for recognising and categorising possible stress factors, and the checklist may be a useful tool in this context.

The University is committed to improving management practice through the provision of guidance, training and support, the promotion of harassment prevention policies, as well as supporting positive initiatives such as personal development review and merit review schemes to recognise and enhance individual contribution to the work of the University.

The University's Occupational Health Service website provides key information about stress, what it is, and how to prevent or manage it, as well as providing links through to other University support services and a range of external resources. 

Management of individual cases of stress

In order to address individual cases of work-related stress where these arise, the University has provided guidance for line managers and guidance for staff on identifying the signs of stress, and advice on practical management interventions based on the HSE management standards.

Where cases of workplace stress are identified, department managers should seek information from the individual as to the contributory factors perceived by the individual and possible remedies.

The early detection of individuals experiencing related health difficulties is vital, and departmental managers and individuals are encouraged to seek advice and assistance at as early a stage as possible where it is felt that there would be benefit from Occupational Health Service input. The management of persons severely affected by work-related stress will be the responsibility of the department managers, in liaison with the Occupational Health Service and Personnel Services.

Employee Responsibilities

It is essential that staff play an active role in contributing to their own well-being and development, as well as to the success of the department and University, by using the resources available to carry out their role effectively. In order to minimise the risk of work-related stress, staff should:

  • ensure good communication with colleagues and their line manager;
  • support colleagues by providing appropriate information and by sharing knowledge and resources where appropriate;
  • engage in discussion about their performance and act on feedback;
  • raise issues of concern at an early stage and seek constructive solutions;
  • make use of the support and training resources available, such as the resources outlined on the Occupational Health website;
  • ensure that harassment and bullying are not tolerated;
  • seek appropriate advice and support at an early stage if difficulties arise.

It is hoped that a proactive approach will mitigate the occurrence of potentially harmful levels of stress. However, where a member of staff feels under undue pressure, he or she should alert their line manager, or another appropriate person (examples of appropriate people include the Occupational Health Service clinical staff, a departmental harassment advisor, a staff representative, or a colleague who may be able to speak on his or her behalf), or otherwise to seek assistance as soon as possible. See: Guidance for staff.

Monitoring

The Safety Office, in conjunction with Personnel Services, the Occupational Health Service, and the Oxford Learning Institute, will annually review the operation of this policy, in the light of data which should be collected for this purpose. This will include data on the incidence of work-related stress, sickness absence, complaints of harassment or bullying and staff turnover. Information will also be gathered about interventions such as counselling, training, etc.  Feedback will be sought from departmental managers and following consultation with staff representatives, taking account also of advice available at the time from such sources as the HSE.

Such monitoring will be fully reported to and involve the Personnel Committee and the joint committees with staff representatives, and the Consultative Committee for Health and Safety.

Other employment procedures

The University has a number of other employment policies and procedures including procedures for dealing with disciplinary matters, grievances, harassment, and bullying. Nothing in this policy should prevent or delay the operation of other relevant procedures, where they should be invoked.