It's only Stress!

It's only Stress!

So it's only stress hey?
To those who don't know what stress 'is' there are lots of definitions. Since I work within health and safety though, I will cite the HSE definition as:

"The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures and demands placed upon them."

Although there are positive stressors in life that motivate us to succeed, it's the excessive pressure and demands impact I will focus on here.....from an employers perspective.

A care home that was being supported by myself and a colleague reviewed their data and found that carer staff were absent from work due to "stress" for an average of a little over 5 days per employee, per year. At a touch over 750 care staff with a salary of c. £19,500 per year (I am not using the precise figures), this equated to around £335,000 per year in lost days. That is a single year of inefficient, money down the drain. (I know this doesn't sound very compassionate, sorry)

This cost does not include the pension, employers national insurance, agency temporary staff to replace existing staff and additional management time on return to work interviews and so on....

To an employer, stress is not trivial at all! Stress can have a life changing impact on individual employees, but this doesn't really tug on the heart strings of a C-Management Type A personality Board (not every C Management board has A-type personalities). What does get the attention (and positive action) from employers, is the cost benefits of successful stress management / stress reduction programme that demonstrates an improvement in efficiency and a reduction in costs.

For those employers, business owners, HR departments, health and safety professional and interested managers who have a team of staff to lead, there has been some guidance produced by HSE. The link on the hse.gov.uk website is currently broken, but the document is called HSG218: Managing the causes of Workplace Stress. For anyone interested, I can send the pdf document to you (just inbox me and happy to send it)

Back to the care home provider now....we looked at the management standards for stress and applied the following questions to the business:

  • Demands - what workload, patterns and environment are carers exposed to?
  • Control - How much say do carers have in their way they do their work?
  • Support - How are carers supported in the workplace and what resources are provided to them by the company?
  • Relationships - How does the employer promote positive working and reducing conflict in the workplace?
  • Roles - How does the organisation ensure that carers understand their roles within the organisation (and potential opportunities for development)?
  • Change - How does the employer manage changes to working practices in a way that involves carers and other employees in the wider business?
By reviewing the business we identified activities which added no additional costs to the business

O.K so maybe not literally free (after all, it does take management time and effort) but it could be done from the existing management resource, with no added costs.

We asked the management team to do the following things:

  • Complete a management standards questionnaire (free resource) for 3 care homes with highest carer stress related absence
  • Review the data already held by HR on who was taking time off with stress related issues
  • Explore with sample groups (carers in particular for this piece) what could be done to improve the working environment
  • Feedback to the senior leadership findings and recommendations
  • Monitor and review for a period of 3 months and if successful, roll out across the group

So what did they find?

Workers were happy to contribute to the focus groups! They wanted to tell management what was wrong and happy to provide solutions. Many of them felt they would not be listened to. Some of the staff led recommendations that were implemented are listed below (some of them are basic, but had a dramatic impact):

  1. Rotas planned a month in advance and additional hours evenly distributed
  2. Holidays and planned periods of absence factored in with a communication book held in the office (previously it was a verbal communication that could be forgotten)
  3. A 'no questions' 5 minute break area for any employee to take a time-out (there were some teething problems with this, but it worked itself out after a couple of weeks)
  4. Senior management completed a roadshow tour of the care homes and took feedback from day time and night time staff - response were provided to the staff by telephone from the same senior manager they spoke to (this was an off the chartsuccess with the carers when we reviewed the feedback).
There were far more changes, but these were the most significant according to the carers who completed feedback questionnaires on the exercise (65 out of 71 returned the feedback questionnaire).

Although this came at a cost to the business, all employees were provided with access to a confidential counselling helpline which they could access 24 hours a day. The approximate cost was c. £30,000 per annum across the group.

One piece of feedback was the NVQ training was taking a very long time to complete for the carers. Most of the costs were funded by the government (at the time) and so senior management 'encouraged' the training providers to better support their staff. There was a small additional cost per carer for some additional training bolted on to the NVQ (I think it involved a hoist, but I cannot be certain).

The end result was that stress related absence reduced within a 12 month period from just over 5 days absence per year, per carer, to just over 1.5 days per year, per carer (approx, £100,000). This saved the business for carers only just over £200,000 (after the counselling helpline fee).

Stress is bad for employees, bad for management, bad for business. A few tweaks and some free guidance can help you to reduce your stress downtime.

As always, happy to discuss. If you need some help, with implementing a management of stress programme get in touch:

☎ +44 (0) 7572 877 551
  • Stress
  • Stress Management
  • Business Improvement
  • Stress Management Training
  • Stress Awareness

I am a Chartered Safety Practitioner with over a decade of experience in both operational and strategic management of safety and health.



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