Working together - managers, employees and HR

This page provides summary guidance on how managers, employees, and human resource professionals should work together to prevent work related stress, with links to additional resources to support each role.

The HSE management standards approach requires managers and employees to work together to improve six main areas of work (demands, control, support, relationships, role, and change) that, if managed properly, can help to reduce work-related stress. There are other toolkits which take a similar approach to identifying the underlying causes of work stress at an organisational level, which rail employers might choose to use.

What should managers be doing?

Our experience has shown that strong visible commitment from managers, both at board level and by line managers, is vital to successful implementation of preventive approaches to stress, such as the management standards. Line managers can play a pivotal role in proactively managing workplace stress, as they:

  • are likely to see first-hand the problems which cause stress in their teams;
  • influence job design and work allocation;
  • are often the first point of contact for an individual feeling stressed; and
  • provide a vital communication link between senior managers and their team.

Applying a preventive approach such as the management standards is about making stress management an integral part of the wider management role, and about continuous improvement. Managers are not expected to provide specialist counselling support, and do not need to devote an unrealistic amount of time to stress management, but small changes in the way the work is done and in management behaviours can really make a big difference. RSSB's Health and Wellbeing Assessment Resource includes filmed good practice case studies on health risk assessment, including a practical example of managing stress within ORR.

Recognising and developing the positive skills and behaviours to manage their staff in ways that minimise work-related stress is important for managers. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has developed with HSE a free online stress management tool which complements the management standards approach, and is designed to help equip managers with the skills to manage positively and prevent stress in their staff. The free tool, available on the CIPD/AXA PPP Employee health and wellbeing website, should help managers to understand how their behaviour impacts on the people they manage, and provides online learning materials to help them improve their management style.

Working with employees

Involving the workforce in identifying potential causes of work related stress, and critically in devising solutions, is central to the success of a preventive approach such as the management standards. We recognise the key role that employees can play in tackling work related stress at an organisational level and have produced an article pdf icon PDF, 221 Kb aimed specifically at employees' representatives . ORR's 2013 conference with rail trade unions on worker health explored how safety representatives could contribute to an organisational stress risk assessment, with a range of useful suggestions captured in a workshop presentation pdf icon PDF, 319 Kb.

What role for HR?

HR professionals often have an active, visible role in dealing with individual cases of work related stress, working with line managers and occupational health staff; managing attendance and referral records; and as custodians of many of the associated policies and procedures. The important contribution that HR staff can make to preventing work related stress is perhaps less well recognised.

Much of the HR data already collected can be used to help identify potential high risk areas for stress; and stress risk assessments can help to inform improvements to existing data collection and HR procedures. HR directors are well placed to champion the management standards approach at board level and drive change.

A focus on preventing work related stress can have real benefits across the HR function, helping to inform and ultimately control sickness absence, staff turnover, return to work interviews, and retention and recruitment. Further guidance on the role HR professionals can play in stress management can be found on HSE's website. Practical support for employers, including HR professionals, is available via business support networks including for example Time to Change and Mindful Employer.