NHS Employers have published comprehensive guidance to help managers throughout the NHS reduce stress in the workplace and better support staff who experience it.
For the past two years, 38 per cent of staff have told the NHS Staff Survey that they have suffered stress in the previous 12 months. NHS Employers also estimates that over 30 per cent of all sick leave is now caused by work-related stress in the NHS, costing up to £400 million each year.
NHS Employers aims to significantly reduce those figures, to improve workforce resilience, staff morale and the ability to deliver quality patient care. It will also help the NHS to encourage the public to become healthier by strongly supporting its own staff to do likewise – a vision outlined in October 2014 by Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England.
Guidance On Prevention And Management of Stress At Work was written by the Health, Safety and Wellbeing Partnership Group – a subgroup of the NHS Staff Council which includes employers and staff-side unions. It is published by NHS Employers which represents employers in the Council and acts as its secretariat. The guidance is being launched on 5 November to mark National Stress Awareness Day.
Two of the biggest causes of stress in the NHS are increasing demand on health services and ongoing organisational change. Some NHS staff have to deal with violent and unpredictable patients, others deal with traumatic and harrowing circumstances, and others have a lack of support or are not receiving enough communication about changes affecting them.
The guidance explains the many different areas that need to come together to tackle stress:
- It is important to understand the causes and impact of stress before you can plan to address it.
- Measuring stress effectively helps to identify trends and who most needs support, which can point towards underlying issues such as whether certain staff minorities experience more stress.
- Comprehensive health and wellbeing policies are rapidly increasing in the NHS and there are many ways to work with staff to ensure these are embraced as more than ‘just policy’.
- Managers are not always good at understanding stress and handling how staff feel, but there are many ways managers can improve their behaviours and how they responsibly address concerns such as work overload.
- Working in partnership with charities, staff-side union representatives and occupational health experts gives staff more channels of support and helps to increase trust and good practice.
James Tracey, employer-side chair of the Health, Safety and Wellbeing Partnership Group (who is also senior human resources manager at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust), said:
“These are big figures and we want to get them down below a third. The NHS is well aware of the challenge of the stress in its workforce. The rapid expansion of wellbeing policies and programmes in the NHS almost certainly accounts for its static levels of stress – despite rising pressure on its services and rising stress in other sectors.
“What we want to achieve now is a greater depth and breadth in how managers respond to stress. There are many technical areas that can be improved, for example measuring specific causes, but most important is the need to better manage the emotional side. If someone phones their manager and asks for some days off because of stress, it takes skill and understanding to respond in the best way.
“The NHS has made a good start and is in a strong position to show other industries how to accommodate stress and other mental health issues. By following the steps in our guidance the NHS can cement that position, building on its wider work to reassure staff that any concerns will be addressed fairly and appropriately by their managers. Effective partnerships between employers, staff and their representatives will be an important stepping stone in reducing stress.”
Kim Sunley, staff-side chair of the Health, Safety and Wellbeing Partnership Group, and Senior Employment Relations Adviser at the Royal College of Nursing, said:
“The current pressures on the health service have led to increasing workloads and high levels of stress among NHS staff. Health workers face the immense challenge of delivering care at a time of growing demand and scant resource, and this can leave them stressed and at very real risk of burnout.
“It’s positive that Simon Stevens and NHS Employers recognise the need to improve support for health service staff. The guidance produced together by the employer and staff-side representatives will help health service organisations to tackle the causes of work-related stress more effectively. The benefits to NHS workers’ health and wellbeing are clear, and this will also reduce costly absence rates for employers and result in better service standards for patients.”
Guidance On Prevention And Management of Stress At Work is available to download from www.nhsemployers.org/hswpg
Source: NHS Employers