Prosecute stress offenders, says TUC

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New research on workplace stress, with guidance for managers on preventing it, has been published today - but the TUC says organsiational attitudes will only change with a tougher attitude, and it calls for the worst offenders to be prosecuted.

Stress and other mental health problems are the second biggest cause of working time lost to sickness absence, costing the UK an estimated £26bn a year.

The research, jointly funded by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Investors in People (IIP), is part of a three year project to identify management behaviour that helps to reduce stress at work and comply with the HSE stress management standards.

It's led to the development of a competency framework setting out the key management behaviours for dealing with stress at work. The behaviours are grouped under 12 competency headings including: acting with integrity; managing conflict; empathetic engagement; participative/empowering and managing emotions.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "While this research is interesting and useful, the sad fact is that more and more people are having their health damaged by stress in the workplace. The only way the tide will be turned is if the HSE and local authority regulators start taking the issue seriously and prosecute the worst offenders.

"Excessive workplace stress is easily preventable if employers follow the HSE's management standards, and the key to changing behaviour is a strong regulatory framework supported by support, education and enforcement.

"Until we treat stress the same way we treat other workplace hazards and prosecute the worst employers it will continue to be the biggest cause of work-related injury."

Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “This research and guidance shows that managing stress at work is part and parcel of good people management. Employers that invest in training and developing their managers to ensure they exhibit the behaviours that manage stress at work will also reap benefits in terms of reduced conflict and staff turnover, as well as increased motivation and commitment.”

Judith Hackitt, HSE Chair, said: “My key message to line managers today is that normal good management activities can and should incorporate effective stress management behaviours. The management competency research provides managers with a clear understanding of those behaviours that should be shown and those that should be avoided to help minimise stress and improve well being for those that they manage. This research points to the need for managers to embed stress management into everyday people management activities and into their organisation's culture. This joint research initiative is a good example of the quality of output which can be achieved through partnership working.”

“Work-related stress accounts for over a third of all new incidences of ill health. HSE has developed ‘stress management standards’ to help organisations manage this problem and we want employers/managers to tackle stress in the workplace and implement these management standards that are key to a healthy organisation and good corporate social responsibility.”

Rob Hargreaves, leading focus into health and wellbeing at Investors in People, added: “Regardless of what benefits an organisation offer its employees, if they are not managed well and feel unsupported, this can lead to a very unhealthy working environment.”

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