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As with any health problem, stress needs to be handled with sensitivity. An individual may be concerned that by telling their manager that they feel stressed it may amount to an admission that they are 'not up to the job'. As a manger you should reassure the individual and arrange to speak to them privately about their concerns. On some occasions it may be more appropriate that a colleague or your line manager discusses the issues, particularly if you have a difficult relationship with the employee. You should be prepared for the fact that some employees may be reluctant to talk e.g. due to concerns about being judged or how the situation may impact their job.

A stress-related case will be brought to your attention in one of the following ways:

  • an individual will raise a stress-related issue with you
  • you raise concerns that an individual may be showing signs of stress
  • the individual is off sick with a stress-related case

There are five main stages in dealing with a stress-related case

1. Listening

Sometimes all it needs is a sympathetic ear and someone to give reassurance to resolve the situation without taking it further to a risk assessment. You may find that the problem is more serious, in which case you will need to take advice from HR and Occupational Health.

2. Exploration and risk assessment

Keep the meeting informal and use open questions to help identify what is causing the stress. For example:

  • what is causing the stress?
  • what is the impact of the stress?
  • how is it affecting them?
  • what solutions do they think might help?

You should discuss whether it is work that is causing the stress or whether it is issues outside of work. Don't put pressure on the employee to reveal issues external to work, you may suggest that it could be helpful to know so you can offer further help and support at work. In some cases you may feel a specialist professional would be better able to help, and it may be appropriate to refer them to the Employee Assistance Programme - Confidential Care. It gives you a place to turn for support any time of day or night, 365 days a year. Support is available for whatever issues you might be facing, including work stress, depression, marriage and relationship issues, legal concerns, coping with change, parenting issues, financial problems, health issues and much more. It also offers a comprehensive wellbeing resource "well online", which offers information and advice to help you optimise your health and wellbeing.

3. Actions

Discuss with the employee suggestions about short term or longer term adjustments to their work that may be helpful. This may include things like:

  • re-negotiation of work deadlines;
  • re-assigning pieces of work;
  • adjusting workload;
  • assistance with planning their working day;
  • a period of leave;
  • training;
  • referring the individual to see their GP;
  • referring to Occupational Health (you must complete the individual stress risk assessment beforehand);
  • regular meeting with their manager.

Ensure the individual is aware of the University's Wellbeing page :

Any actions and solutions should be noted and a date to review progress agreed. It is important to ensure the situation is being managed effectively and that agreed actions are realistic and achievable considering the resources available.

4. Follow up

Any agreed actions should be followed up, and regular progress meetings arranged and recorded.

5. What if the situation does not improve?

Having gone through the first four stages and there is no sign of improvement, you may need to consider contacting HR.

Your HR Partner will be able to provide managers with specific support and guidance about how best to manage each individual case. They can talk through the different options available and guide you through the right approach. They can provide advice on making a referral to Occupational Health, on the counselling support available and on the appropriate training courses available.

If you refer an employee to Occupational Health they will make an appointment with the employee and send you a copy of the management report. Depending on the situation and the questions you have asked in the referral, the management report may include advice and guidance on managing an employee returning to work from sickness absence, advice and guidance on workplace adjustments and on any other issues that have been raised by either you or the employee.

Managers should consider the following data sources to identify whether there are any indications of workplace stress:

  • staff survey results
  • sickness absence
  • staff turnover
  • exit interviews
  • harassment and bullying reporting or grievances
  • accidents/incidents at work
  • Occupational Health referrals
  • workload model

Managers cannot guess if an employee is feeling stressed, however identifying changes in behaviour or performance could be an indicator and should alert them to a potential problem.

it is important to recognise the causes of excessive pressure so that they can be avoided or minimised. There may be occasions however when the source of stress is unavoidable, and in these circumstances careful management is necessary to prevent an employee becoming unwell as a result.