Tue 09 May 2023

New ACAS guidance on managing stress published

Guidance published after a third of workers said their employers did not manage work-related stress effectively.

Anyone who has kept up with the content of the CIPD & Simplyhealth annual workplace health and wellbeing survey will be aware of the continual impact of stress on work attendance.  The most recent survey identified stress as being the third most common cause of long-term absence, and it also appeared in the top five causes of short term absence.  Heavy workloads have commonly been identified as the main cause of work-related stress, with line managers being on the frontline of managing both short and long-term absence.

The YouGov poll that ACAS commissioned prior to the guidance being published found that one third of British workers felt their organisation was not effective in managing work-related stress.  The guidance is split into four sections:-

  • causes and signs of stress;
  • understanding the law on work-related stress;
  • supporting employees with work-related stress; and
  • preventing work-related stress. 

While acknowledging that stress is caused by many factors, the guidance concentrates on work-related stress.  Involvement of line managers is pivotal with the need to identify signs of stress and act early being an important part of management.  Employees are also to be encouraged to take responsibility for their own health including via a "Wellness Action Plan" available via a link to mental health charity Mind.  Information is provided on when and how to carry out risk assessments, again with a helpful link to the Health and Safety Executive.  While employees who qualify as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 are entitled to reasonable adjustments, employers are encouraged to consider the same for non-disabled employees as well.

The ideal scenario is, of course, to avoid employees suffering from stress in the first place, making the last section of the guidance perhaps the most important.  Employers are encouraged to have a clear policy on mental health and stress, to train line managers (lack of training for managers being a problem routinely highlighted by research in this area), fostering an open environment where staff feel able to raise issues and promoting a work-life balance.  Where possible, support via employee assistance programmes, peer support programmes and help via occupational health are also recommended.

While society continues to deal with the fall out of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and other significant worldwide and personal events, unfortunately stress is likely to remain a challenge for people professionals, line managers and individuals for the foreseeable future.  The ACAS guidance is easily accessible and a straightforward read for both employers and employees.

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