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How to prevent claims of workplace stress

Author: Lynda Macdonald

Summary

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  • Recognise the potential legal consequences for employers of failing to protect employees from extreme or prolonged workplace stress.
  • Remember that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 obliges all employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees and that "health" in this context includes mental health.
  • Focus on measures that will prevent workplace stress rather than on those designed to alleviate stress that has already been generated.
  • Begin the process of preventing workplace stress by examining current working practices to establish whether any aspect of the working environment is placing excessive pressure or demands on any specific employee(s).
  • Take measures to ensure that workloads, targets and deadlines are realistic and strive to give individuals more control over their work.
  • Talk to employees to review whether the demands being made on them are within their individual coping resources.
  • Tackle any organisational practices that place pressure on employees consistently to work long hours and take positive steps to ensure that every employee takes regular breaks and holidays.
  • Offer flexible working hours and patterns whenever possible and encourage employees to achieve a work-life balance.
  • Ensure that employees who need it receive support and also that sufficient coaching and training is available to enable employees to perform their job effectively and confidently.
  • Implement an anti-bullying/harassment policy and complaints procedure, making sure that everyone knows that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated.
  • Ensure effective two-way communication between management and staff at all times.
  • Be vigilant to the possibility of employee stress and do not assume that an absence of complaints means that no stress problems exist.
  • Recognise that workplace stress is a serious issue and resolve to address it in a positive and constructive manner with a view to prevention or reduction wherever possible.