The Health and Safety Executive has published a framework covering six areas that might result in an employee or employees suffering stress at work (the HSE Management Standards). These are things like lack of control over work and lack of management support. As we note in articles on our site, this framework is a good way of thinking about stress. This blog discusses the practical use of the HSE Management Standards Indicator Tool when managing stress in companies.
HSE proposes using a questionnaire based on these six areas (Demands, Control, Support, Relationships, Role, Change). This questionnaire is a management tool used to indicate the degree to which employees might be feeling stressed. It can be found on the HSE web site.
The questionnaire is very simple for employees to complete, but what do managers do with it once one or more completed questionnaires are available?
Here are some suggestions.
The tool asks respondents to indicate answers on what's known as a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from, for example ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’. Each question refers to a Management Standard:
Questions 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, 20 and 22 refer to Demands
Questions 2, 10, 15, 16, 19, 25, 30 and 33 refer to Control
Questions 7, 8, 23, 24, 31 and 35 refer to Support
Questions 5, 14, 21, 27, 29 and 34 refer to Relationships
Questions 1, 4, 11, 13 and 17 refer to Role, and
Questions 26, 28 and 32 refer to Change.
The indicator tool can be used to analyse what each person is feeling about their work situation and their stress. The questionnaire responses are numbered 1-5. For example, simply add the numbers ticked that correspond to ‘Demands’ above. Divide by the number of ‘Demands’ questions and this gives an average for the ‘Demands’ Management Standard. An average of 4-5 indicates that this person has few issues about that Management Standard and hence likely exhibits (in the case of Demands) low risk of demand-resource imbalance. And average of 1-2 indicates that there may be an issue and that they may be suffering or at risk of suffering stress due to demand–resource imbalance. Repeat this analysis to report an average for each Management Standard.
These scores can then be added together for each employee and an average arrived at (by dividing by the number of employees assessed) for each Management Standard for the employee body as a whole. Again a score of 4-5 for Demands indicates that in general the employee body as a whole has little problem with demand-resource imbalance. This can then be repeated for each Management Standard to get a feel for how employees as a whole feel about each area.
This approach will either result in a sigh of relief or a murmur of concern. In either case, the result illustrates areas for management action.
The average tells the manager something about how the employee body as a whole is feeling. What’s also important is that the manager understands the variance in the responses. For example, it may be that generally most employees gain adequate management support but that one department or particular employee group feel otherwise.
The methods of analysis using variance, standard deviation and detection of outliers are beyond the scope of this blog. Call us if you want to know more. The HSE also provide an analysis tool for multiple questionnaires.
The questionnaire can also be completed by individuals who are suspected of suffering stress. In this case, it can indicate areas where the employee feels concern. In HSE terms, it indicates where they may be at risk of suffering stress.
In this case, proceed as above, arriving at six averages for the employee. As before, management should be concerned if the individual reports scores of 1-2 for any Management Standard. However, in this case, management should not simply rejoice or express concern and stop there. It is very important that a manager sits with the employee to discuss what has led to the scores. Self-report questionnaires of this form are open to individual interpretation. They are also open to a number of distortions – they represent how the person feels at that moment and that may change with time and circumstance.
Through discussion the scores can then be corroborated or refuted and hence changed. The corrected scores can then be taken as an indication of where action is needed in that particular employee’s case.
Administering Questionnaires and Doing Analysis
There are many issues that managers need to be aware of when administering questionnaires.
First, mass questionnaires should be administered completely anonymously. Survey Monkey is good for this. That way the chances are that true feelings and situations will be reflected in the answers. Managers should remember that employees may have very specific motives in responding in a particular way. Try to ensure that employees don’t collude in responses and that only one response is completed per person.
Second, managers should remember that being singled out as being victim to stress or being at risk of suffering stress may stigmatise individuals. It may cause the victim to be bullied or harassed by others because they are seen to be in some way weak. If the identity of anyone is known, and if managers are to proceed to try to help that person, this must be done sensitively and with a genuine interest in the person’s wellbeing. Managers must be prepared to listen and accept criticism in order to learn where change might be made to improve employee wellbeing.
Practical Use of the HSE Management Standards Indicator Tool
Stress should not be ignored. It doesn’t normally go away without some interaction. Ignoring stress simply compounds problems.
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