Why Workplaces Should Do Stress Risk Assessments
Jul 28, 2023, 7 min read
Whether you are an employer yourself, work in HR, or work for a company that does not have a stress risk assessment procedure in place, you may be interested in learning more about what these are, why they are necessary and how to conduct one.
At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, so if you have questions about workplace stress risk assessments and how they can benefit both staff and employers, we’re here to help.
What is a workplace risk assessment?
According to the British Safety Council, a risk assessment in the workplace is a tool to ensure the health and safety of employees of the business and anyone else involved in the business that could be affected by its practices.
Depending on the type of business or organisation being looked at, this can be an assessment of physical risk or mental health risk.
Is there a legal requirement to do a stress risk assessment?
Yes. Although many employers will naturally look to do a risk assessment to ensure safety within their business, this is in fact a legal requirement in the UK.
A risk assessment requires every employer to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of:
- The risks to the health and safety of their employees to which they are exposed whilst at work
- The risks to the health and safety of persons not in their employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by their undertaking
Employers also have a legal duty to carry out a risk assessment and put measures in place to protect employees from stress in the workplace.
Why should all employers do this?
Employers may be legally required to carry out a risk assessment, but there are other reasons they may wish to do so. These include:
- Absenteeism — when someone is off work ill
- Presenteeism — when someone turns up to work unwell and unable to carry out their usual tasks
- Reduced productivity — when someone’s health or mental health issues affect their level of output within the business
Many UK businesses deal with people taking time off sick from their job, or not getting enough done due to ill health or mental health issues. All of this can contribute to a downturn in productivity and, as a result, profits. According to the Mental Health Foundation, evidence suggests 12.7% of all illness-related absences in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions, and according to the World Health Organization, around the world an estimated 12 billion working days are lost each year due to depression and anxiety, which costs the economy around $1 trillion US dollars a year.
For this reason, conducting a risk assessment with stress management as a focus is a positive move for both employee and employer. By ensuring employees remain happy and healthy at work, their productivity remains constant, which can maintain or even boost profits for the business.
Who is responsible for conducting stress risk assessments in the workplace?
It is the employer’s responsibility to conduct a stress risk assessment in the workplace, or to appoint someone with the appropriate experience and skills needed to do this on their behalf. Typically this would be done by the HR department in a larger organisation, but if you run a small business and do not have an HR department, you are still responsible for ensuring this is carried out.
What are some best practices when it comes to stress risk assessments?
There are a few best practices for conducting a risk assessment with stress management in mind. Firstly, it is worth noting that if you have less than five employees in your business you are not required to write down the findings of your risk assessment, however any more than five and you are legally required to do so. It is good practice to write everything down regardless of how many employees you have so you can make changes and refer back.
In many cases, a stress risk assessment doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. To conduct a mental health risk assessment, here are some of the recommended steps:
- Start by identifying anything that could contribute to stress for your employees and anyone in contact with your business. You can do this by asking relevant people questions in one-to-one meetings, checking sickness data, staff turnover, exit interviews, and more.
- Once you have identified the sources of stress, split these into relevant categories. The HSE Management Standards mentions 6 key stress factors that often occur in the workplace which could form the foundation of a risk assessment. These include:
- Role: Does everyone understand their role? Are there any conflicting roles?
- Demands: Are there any demands on work patterns, workload, or the working environment?
- Control: How much control does each person have over their work style?
- Relationships: Is there any conflict in the workplace, or any unacceptable behaviour that needs to be addressed?
- Support: Is there enough encouragement and sponsorship? Are resources provided by the organisation?
- Change: How is organisational change managed and communicated to employees?
- Once you know the area that needs to be addressed, decide what positive actions can be taken. You can involve multiple levels of management and HR to work on an action plan that will benefit the whole company.
- Make sure you assign responsibility to each action you outline, so that someone is in charge of making it happen. Discuss their responsibilities and agree deadlines.
- Throughout the process and beyond, you can monitor and review your risk assessment, and continue to do so on a regular basis. Your risk assessment plan should be re-evaluated as the business grows.
What can workplaces do to help employees with stress management?
There are an endless amount of resources and protocols workplaces can implement to help their staff manage stress well, however, usually it only takes a few small tweaks to make a huge difference. Not only can this positively affect the health and wellbeing of employees, but it also helps the business maintain productivity and profits.
The Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2023 report found that in the UK, 39% of employees feel stress at work, and the figures were similar whether employees were working onsite or from home. 34% were looking to leave their job.
Stress can be a big contributor to high turnover, absenteeism, presenteeism and reduced productivity, all of which cost businesses money in the long run if not addressed early.
To protect mental health in the workplace, the World Health Organization recommends:
- Training to help managers recognise and act on employees’ emotional distress, such as building interpersonal skills and communication, active listening, and more.
- Training for employees in mental health literacy to improve their knowledge of mental health issues and reduce stigma in the workplace.
- Having interventions for relevant people to help them build the skills needed to manage stress and reduce mental health symptoms.
Here are some other things you could do in your business to improve employees’ mental health:
- Foster a culture of understanding so staff can be honest about their mental health. According to Mind.org.uk, a survey revealed that 1 in 5 people felt they couldn’t tell their manager if they were experiencing high stress. Opening up this conversation can help people feel more supported and less anxious at work.
- When conducting your risk assessment, make any necessary adjustments to support employees going through a difficult time. For example, if an employee regularly answers calls from the public and has recently experienced a bereavement, this may be difficult for them, and you could temporarily find alternative arrangements to help.
- Create a time-out area in the workplace so people can have a real break, and encourage employees not to stay at their desk for lunch — spending time away from their everyday workspace can help their mental health.
- As management, remember to model healthy behaviours in order to encourage employees to take care of themselves.
- Check in regularly with employees to give them a chance to bring up any issues. In a study by the Harvard Business Review with Qualtrics and SAP, nearly 40% of global employees said no one at their workplace had enquired about how they were, and of those survey respondents, 38% were more likely than others to say their mental health had declined since the 2020 pandemic.
Prevention is often better than cure, so proactively implementing practices to protect the mental health of your employees can be the best way to ensure your business doesn’t suffer. According to research by Deloitte in 2020, over the 3 years prior to the pandemic the annual cost to employers due to poor mental health had increased by 16%, costing up to £45 billion.
You can empower your employees to take control of their mental health and performance by offering your employees access to Augmentive’s network of 900+ qualified practitioners. With a holistic network of specialists, on-demand ‘ask a therapist’ functions, quick and flexible booking, a dedicated account manager and much more, we offer a service for your employees that not only helps them maintain great mental health in the workplace, but ultimately maintains and improves the performance of your teams.
If you have a question about a mental health challenge, like how to calm your mind when stressed - we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps. Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from private mental health assessments and reviews, to finding qualified and approved mental health professionals for the support you need.