Stressin the workplace could be seen as an epidemic. However, some public sectoremployers are showing it can be avoided if the right policies are put in place.Jo Rick, principal research fellow, Institute for Employment Studies, applaudstheir creativity and flexibility in tackling the problemThepublic sector, with constant modernisation initiatives and a powerful impetusfor sweeping change in every area, appears to be the perfect breeding groundfor stress. A cycle of new demands and pressure leads to more stress, absence,and then further demands to do better still. Organisations could be forgivenfor pressing the panic button.Buthold on. What is this ‘disease’ that could spread so quickly? The fact is that‘stress’ is used too often as a catch-all phrase. A GP will write ‘stress’ on asick note because their duty is to decide whether or not a person is fit forwork. However, the key to being able to intervene effectively is understandingthe specific nature of the problem.Stressas a cause of absence is different from physical illnesses. If an employeesends in a sick note, for example, for a broken leg, the employer immediatelyhas some idea of the likely length of absence, the limitations on that employeeduring the illness and whether there will be any need for adjustment to work inthe longer term.Adiagnosis of stress says nothing about the specific problem, the possiblecauses, the likely length of absence and whether the problem is reallywork-related. Technically speaking, stress is not a diagnosis, and is notlisted in medical diagnostic criteria.Lookmore closely and employers will see that stress is not the invisible assassin,stalking the workplace, but is being used to describe what is actually a rangeof specific, identifiable and usually preventable or resolvable situations.Organisations can deal with it, and there are many examples of good practice inthe UK of how employees are being rehabilitated back into work.1Alongsideother good practice in rehabilitation, organisations are starting to recognisethat if they are to tackle stress, they need to start with a much more detailedand specific assessment of the nature of the problem.Forinstance, Lancashire Constabulary Central Division has changed its culture toensure stress is seen as an issue that needs to be addressed quickly. Anattendance policy is in place to pick up on longer spells of absence, and anyabsence relating to stress or anxiety is followed up immediately. Fullassessments are made to pinpoint the real causes of absence and employees areable to agree their own rehabilitation plan, which might involve temporary‘recuperative’ duties, change of work location or home working. The range ofstress policies and practices are seen to have been a real success in reducinglevels of sickness absence.AtSandwell Healthcare Trust, there is a robust absence reporting procedure inplace, with regular contact with the absent employee. Rehabilitation plans aretailored to the needs of the individual employee, often involving the use oftemporary placements. The trust operates a case management system, with rolesclearly defined for the line manager, divisional HR managers and occupationalhealth in each plan. Training is available for managers in managing change andadvice on how to maintain contact with an absent employee – a difficult taskfor many managers when stress is the problem. Goodrehabilitation practice is based around the following principles:–Maintaining contact with the employee on a personal rather than a purelywork-related basis–Attempting to diagnose the specific problems behind the stress involved–Providing immediate support from the start of the absence–Encouraging stress awareness among line managers–Being creative and flexible about options for a return-to-work–Developing an agreed rehabilitation plan with the employee–Creating a written policy or set of guidelines for employee rehabilitation.Thereis much talk of flexibility in the workplace in order to improve motivation andproductivity. It may actually be that creativity and flexibility in approachesto preventing stress and rehabilitating employees can bring even bigger rewards.Someorganisations are trying something new. For example, offering coaching formanagers in dealing with an employee once they are off work with stress, andthe creation of closer working relationships between employers, occupationalhealth and GPs to determine more specific causes.Themore specific diagnoses become, the more quickly this ominous, entirely vagueepidemic can be exposed and organisations will be able to get a handle on thespecific underlying issues.Reference:1.Best Practice in Rehabilitating Employees Following Absence Due to Work-RelatedStress, Thompson, Neathey, Rick, HSE 2003, ISBN 0 7176 2715 2, £20.00, is alsoavailable as a free download from the Health & Safety Executive stress webpages, www.hse.gov.uk/stress/research.htmFormore information, contact Jo Rick, [email protected],at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), www.employment-studies.co.uk Prevention is better than a cureOn 1 Oct 2003 in Personnel Today Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed.