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1. Introduction

The document below gives guidance on how to evaluate risk using the HSE management standards.

HSE standards, which are in draft form, originally included ‘organisational culture’ as a separate standard since this is key in determining how successful the management of work-related stress might be. In order to achieve a healthy/positive organisational culture the University strives to create a friendly, supportive, collaborative, and trusting environment where staff in all roles are treated as individuals and diversity is welcomed. All staff have a responsibility to behave as professionals and a right to be treated with respect. Fairness and openness will be guiding principles. Staff development is a shared responsibility.

The University faces management challenges that are common to all large, complex organisations but also faces others that are more specific to universities. The dignity at work policy is a model for all staff, including academic and support staff. It states that staff have a responsibility to act professionally and a right to be treated with respect. Likewise staff are accountable for their contribution and performance but are entitled to appropriate support from their managers in achieving their objectives. The University seeks to strike a balance between concepts of academic freedom and autonomy whilst recognising the management skills necessary to achieve the goals of the University.


2. Demands of the job

Demands on the individual are often quoted as the main cause of work-related stress. Such demands include:

Work overload/underload

If this is identified, managers should consider the following to attempt to strike a balance between ensuring that staff are interested and busy, but not underloaded, overloaded, or confused about the job:

  • Temporary reduction in workload
  • Review of the role description
  • Temporary change of duties (following advice from Occupational Health and the Staff Welfare Service)
  • Medical redeployment (exceptional circumstances only and on advice from the Occupational Health Service)
  • Training provision to ensure staff are enabled to do their jobs, and support in taking on more responsibilities, if appropriate.

Health and Safety

Each institution creates its own hazards and risks through the activities it undertakes. The control of these is not managed centrally but is the responsibility of the heads. This health and safety management responsibility devolved by the Vice-Chancellor to heads is assisted by internal guidance, including policies developed by the Safety Office, including the University's Health and Safety Policy.


3. Control

Control is the amount of ‘say’ an individual considers they have in how their work is carried out.

Through the ongoing management process it is good practice to provide individuals with the opportunity to discuss and provide feedback to their manager about issues relating to their work. In addition there are more structured processes through which discussions about how work is carried out and support is provided can take place. Examples of such processes are:

  • The Staff Review and Development Scheme is an ongoing and systematic process that encourages individuals to reflect upon their own job performance and development needs and discuss them with their reviewer. The Scheme provides a formal opportunity for reviewers to give feedback about performance and to agree action plans. Although a periodic review meeting will form a significant feature, the whole Scheme will be underpinned by regular progress review meetings between the people concerned. A properly designed and conducted Scheme should lead towards a climate of trust, where staff and their managers participate in an open and ongoing dialogue about work effectiveness and career development.
  • The mentoring relationship is not a line/reporting one but is a confidential one-to-one relationship outside any management process and is between an individual and a more experienced person who can guide and help the individual to learn and develop in the organisation. Experience has shown that peer mentoring provides a valuable source of learning and, through engaging in reflective discussion, helps individuals cope with the changes that a new job can bring. It is important that the mentor has regular meetings with the individual.
  • Probationary procedures are designed as supportive processes that should facilitate the effective settling-in of the new member of staff. The line manager should use this opportunity to work with the new member of staff, articulating each other's needs, expectations, strengths and weaknesses and making an informed judgement about suitability for the post. It is a two-way process allowing both parties to raise issues relevant to being in a new job, perhaps in a different organisation.


4. Support and the individual

The way both new and existing staff are supported is key to reducing or moderating work-related stress. HR Business Managers or HR Advisers will provide support and advice to managers to help them address such issues. This will include advice on:

Work-life Balance

Getting the work-life balance right is high on the agenda for many staff who have personal responsibilities and interests, as well as work commitments. Giving staff more flexible options means that they should be able to get more out of their personal life, whilst giving the most to their working life. Progress has already been made by establishing family-friendly policies, such as the following:

It is appropriate that individuals make a personal effort to reduce and segregate the impact of any work and life stress factors on one another and make their best efforts to maintain a satisfactory balance.

Training and Development

The Centre for Personal and Professional Development Directory provides information about the development activities that are available to all University staff. This includes: General and Management Development, IT Training and Health & Safety as well as information about other activities and events that are taking place.

Support Services

Where stress is identified as a problem in the workplace, managers may refer the employee to the Occupational Health Service, Welfare or the Staff Counselling Service. Such a referral will normally be made in consultation with the HR Business Manager or HR Adviser and with the agreement of the employee. It is also recognised that a member of staff may prefer to access other support agencies through his/her own GP. Where stress is reported by a member of staff through a medical certificate during a formal employment process, such as disciplinary action, referral to the Occupational Health Service should be made at the earliest opportunity. As with other causes of sickness absence, managers must maintain contact with employees absent through stress related illness, including return to work interviews.

After stress related absence and prior to a return to work, managers should normally meet the employee to plan the return to work and identify control measures, taking advice from OHS as appropriate. In some cases, management may consider that the employee's condition is such that he/she cannot remain at/return to work without referral to OHS.

Further Support

Dignity at work advisers

The University recognises the possibility that a member of staff may be the recipient of unacceptable behaviour by colleagues, managers, students, contractors, clients. Mostly this can be dealt with directly by the member of staff him/herself or by the member of staff raising it with his/her line manager. If however these routes are not appropriate or this has not stopped the behaviour, assistance may be sought from trained advisers within the University. These Advisers are volunteers who have undertaken specialist training to equip them for this role. They offer a confidential service and will listen to the member of staff's explanation of the situation and advise on options available to enable the member of staff to deal with the matter. This is an informal route but members of staff may prefer to follow a formal route and use the University's grievance procedures.

The Safety Office

The Safety Office provides to staff information, guidance and training in matters of health & safety.

Trade Unions

Recognised trades unions provide confidential advice and information, colleague support, and representation.


Good management/employee communication through supportive discussions will allow stress situations to be discussed and action planned.

External Agencies

Confidential listening and counselling can be obtained from agencies such as Relate, Samaritans, and Debt Advisory Services (see here for further details).


5. Relationships

‘Relationships’ refer to the way we interact with people at work for business purposes.

Standards of Behaviour at Work

The University believes it is important that staff have a clear understanding of the expectations that the University places on them and of the standards to which they are expected to work. These relate both to the work they undertake and the way in which they conduct themselves while at work, including:

The use and abuse of IT systems

The University encourages the use and exploration of its IT systems but discourages behaviour which may be inappropriate or which may inconvenience other users such as the use of language in communications which is defamatory, discriminatory, harassing or offensive to others. It also prohibits the creation, display, production, circulation or transmission in any form or medium of inappropriate material, such as pornographic or other offensive material from the Internet and reminds staff of the sensitivity of handling confidential information.

Dignity at Work

The University fully supports the right of all people to be treated with dignity and respect at work. The University is, therefore, committed to promoting a working environment, free from all forms of inappropriate behaviour, where all employees can give of their best. The Dignity at Work Policy outlines two important principles governing work relationships:

Expected Standards of Behaviour at Work
The policy defines standards of unacceptable behaviour for staff in relation to their work, identifying the responsibilities of both managers and individual members of staff. It also provides a framework for action when behaviour falls short of the expected standards. The policy is based on the premise that we should treat other people in the way in which we would like to be treated ourselves. Unacceptable behaviour such as harassment, bullying, victimisation, physical assault, will not be tolerated and where it is identified there are informal and formal routes that may be followed when tackling a problem.
Workplace Relationships
The policy deals with the potential for conflicts of interest to arise when there are personal relationships between staff, potential members of staff or students. The University recognises that, as in any large organisation, there may be instances of such relationships forming. These relationships have the potential to affect the working life of the University and may cause others to doubt the integrity of its processes. In minimising the potential risk to the individual and the University, the policy sets out the steps that should be taken.


6. Role

Stress may be reduced by ensuring that an individual's role in the institution is clearly defined and understood.

When designing and reviewing a post, the revised role description should give the post-holder scope for determining some elements of job content, task organisation, and workflow (as appropriate to the grade of the post). There needs to be an appropriate range or mix of tasks within the job and the role-holder needs to receive direct feedback. The relationship between roles should be designed to maximise the benefits of team working.

7. Change

Change is inevitable in the strategic evolution of the University. The University is committed to ensuring that managers involved in these processes should have the necessary skills to manage change well. At the minor and short-term level of change the use of normal good management processes and procedures should ensure that change does not create work-related stress.

Significant change, particularly in organisational structure and staffing, can lead to individuals feeling anxious about their employment status and consequently reporting work-related stress. Managing such change should take into account good practice in employee relations, employment law and the University's policies and procedures.