5 opportunities your workplace will gain from using HSE management standards

Work-related stress is the second most commonly reported cause of ill health in Great Britain. The latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show that 15.6 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression in 2017/18. In the same period, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health cases, and 57% of all working days lost due to ill health. It’s not hard to see why this is an area that responsible workplaces and organisations will want to focus on.

We’ve seen an increased focus on mental health in the workplace recently, with various organisations releasing guidance and information to support businesses in developing healthy workplace cultures. The ‘Thrive at Work’ guidance released in 2017 outlines new standards and encourages workplaces to implement these in a comprehensive way. Much of the guidance in this and other campaigns aims to support employees with mental health difficulties and reduce the prejudice and discrimination that many people experience when disclosing their difficulties to employers. 

Whilst this guidance and the drive to up-skill line managers is very welcome, it’s best placed within a strategy which places an equal focus reducing and controlling employee’s exposure to work-related stress. It makes good business sense to ensure that measures are in place to monitor levels of work-related stress effectively and to manage the factors that might trigger mental health difficulties. 

The recently updated HSE management standards provide five opportunities for employers to do just that:

1. Early intervention

Using the HSE management standards framework gives employers an opportunity to have effective conversations with employees and teams to ascertain which workplace factors may be affecting them and how they can be reasonably managed. 

If you notice an employee whose performance is dropping and whom you might be concerned about, it’s best to try to identify any workplace issues that may be driving difficulties or exacerbating them. Even if an individual’s difficulties are coming from other areas of their life, it’s appropriate to make effective, reasonable adjustments to reduce any unnecessary pressure on them at work. One thing is certain, situations often don’t resolve themselves in isolation and a proactive, supportive approach may just avoid lengthier periods of absence.

2. Solution-focused and collaborative

The HSE framework promotes a solution-focused approach by giving employers and employees an opportunity to identify difficulties stemming from workplace factors and to discuss ways of managing and implementing reasonable, time-limited adjustments. Six areas have been identified as possible environmental risk factors for the development of work-related stress by the HSE. They are demands, control, support, relationship, role and change.

This framework enables individuals and teams to feel included and gives them a voice when considering effective adjustments at work. More importantly, it’s not designed to be a punitive process but provides a space where all parties can move potentially difficult circumstances forward. It also allows employers to monitor whether adjustments and interventions are actually having the desired effect and reducing the experience of stress at work. 

3. Time to talk about mental health

Although stress is not a medical condition, lengthy or more frequent exposure to stressful experiences may increase the likelihood of an employee developing a common mental health difficulty such as depression or heightened anxiety. This framework will give you an early opportunity to discuss mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, especially if you’re already concerned about an employee or team. Weaving this approach into your normal people management processes will help you to create a culture that talks openly about mental health and wellbeing. 

It really is time to talk openly and supportively and reduce the stigma individuals feel when discussing difficulties with mental wellbeing. 

4. Promotion of support strategies

We know that early intervention is key when supporting employees who may be experiencing difficulties and that it helps them to recover more quickly and stay at work. An open conversation is an ideal opportunity to talk through the various support mechanisms your workplace promotes, from counselling and occupational health services to flexible working opportunities and information on any training courses you offer to increase personal confidence and skills-based competency. It will also help you to reassure employees that it’s OK to use these services and how effective they can be. 

5. Best practice

The HSE management standards approach gives employers an opportunity to be part of an effectively researched, evidence-based approach to managing work-related stress. Employers can take full advantage of the benefits this will offer in sharing good practice. A refreshed set of guidance and tools, including digital offerings will give you a comprehensive way of embedding a proactive approach to supporting employees. The guidance will also help to develop a healthy workplace, which acknowledges the part environmental factors play in the development of mental health difficulties and the powerful impact it can have in promoting good mental health. 

For further information and to access information to implement the Management Standards within your organisation visit the HSE website www.hse.gov.uk/stress

This article was written for CABA by mental wellbeing specialist, Kirsty Lilley.
For more tips, tools and resources to help you take care of your mental wellbeing and empower others to do the same, visit cabamentalwellbeing.org.uk