IntroductionIn Australia, the work of Cotton and Hart distinguishes operational demands and the context in which work is conducted, and recognises that contextual factors (such as leadership and managerial practices, climate and culture) strongly influence how employees cope with and manage their operational demands. Cotton and Hart have found that contextual factors tend to exert a stronger influence on staff wellbeing outcomes when directly compared with a wide range of operational stress risk factors. Risk management of workplace stressWorkplace stress is a health and safety issue and comes under the OHS Act.
Prevention of workplace stressThe expectation under the OHS Act is that managers will do everything practicable to prevent injury through workplace stress.This should occur when a new process or job is introduced.
When to actFaced with an awkward or difficult dilemma at work line managers react in various ways. A common response that can work if you have decided it is not time to intervene - problems do sometimes go away or resolve themselves.
Sometimes managers want to say something but lose their nerve and end up sending out coded messages in the form of jokes or quips which make things worse. A manager might decide 'enough is enough' but be careful – issuing edicts and threatening sanctions can leave you with little room to manoeuvre.
Talking about problems in an open but honest way can be the hardest route to take but is often the most productive.
There are a number of reasons why managers may fail to deal adequately with staff who experience work-related stress. How do I recognise stress in individuals?Many of the outward signs of stress in individuals will frequently be noticeable to managers and colleagues. How can managers deal with workplace stress?The standard OHS risk management methodology of "find, assess and fix" can be applied to workplace stress. The first step is about paying attention to your staff, noticing any changes in their usual behaviour or relationships.It may be also worthwhile reviewing leave use, both recreation and sick leave as well as over-time or time in lieu. Listen to what staff are saying: are there more complaints or excuses than unusual?Has the level of conflict or sensitivity increased?
Think about what you have observed and how that relates to the factors that typically lead to workplace stress.
Dealing with particular issuesEach situation of stress in the workplace will have unique aspects. If the stress involves a group of staff, then it is usually a case of mixing and matching: some staff members should be spoken to individually, all staff should be given the option of initiating a discussion with you and the group should be given an opportunity to raise issues as a group. Return from an extended absence(over two weeks): is there anything I should do differently if the person has been away from work for an extended period? Firstly welcome the staff member back, confirm their contribution was missed and provide an update about developments that have occurred in their absence.Secondly, as a separate exercise, explore with them their reasons for non-attendance.
The normal practice is to keep in contact with staff members that are on unplanned absences.


A particular issue at Deakin is "distance management" where particularly direct line managers are not on the same campus as a portion of their staff. We acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which Deakin University stands and we pay our respect.
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As well as considering the physical hazards such as manual handling or ergonomics, the psychological hazards should be considered.Work demands are the easiest to identify. The job stress identification checklist (DOCX, 30.2 KB) can be used to evaluate the stress associated with a job.
You may have to use your disciplinary procedure to resolve a problem, but you may also be able to reach a consensus about the best way forward.
These include:inadequate awareness of the issuesreluctance to concede that their management styles may be associated with ill health or stress in their employeesdifferent staff may respond differently to the same working environment and management style. Look in particular for changes in a person's mood or behaviour, such as deteriorating relationships with colleagues, irritability, indecisiveness, absenteeism or reduced performance. In addition, there are staff who already have a psychological condition or develop one during their work life. Focus on the obvious causes but do not ignore the full range of possibilities.Be honest with yourself: what is my contribution?If you believe the stress is not work related, how is work aggravating the situation? It involves an understanding that all requests or behaviours are actually an attempt to meet a need.Managing Mental Health Matters is a Canadian program focused on helping managers, supervisors and other leaders learn how to effectively recognize and manage mental health related issues including stress in the workplace. Even when a group of staff are facing the same stress risk factors, the best outcomes occur when effort is made to configure solutions to the individual's circumstances.
If you already know that the period off work was due to stress, review with the staff member the factors they believe are responsible for the stress.
If you believe this is problematical or you have been asked by the person not to contact them, discuss this with your Human Resources Partner.If possible, you should arrange a face-to-face meeting with staff member at a neutral location preferably, but if necessary at their home. This can lead to two stress issues – staff feeling alienated from their manager (in the worst cases, "us" versus "them"), and the manager not being close enough to the workplace to feel the mood of local staff. Like all my cartoons, these are available for newsletters, magazines, advertising, flyers, presentations, seminars, books, newspapers, any type of print or electronic media.
Please download the latest version of the Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, or Windows Internet Explorer browser. Work demand risk factors such as pace of work and work variety are more easily recognised compared to more esoteric support risk factors such as respect and management culture.


This may lead managers to conclude that a problem is the individual's – rather than accepting the need to acknowledge and respond to differences in their staffmanagers may be reluctant to be educated in this area if they do not consider health and safety to be part of their responsibilitiesmanagers may be concerned that raising stress with staff may create an issue where none existedmanagers may be reluctant to 'intrude' into a worker's private life, although stresses arising outside of work can spill-over into the workplace.Managers may find it useful to get training or coaching in communication skills, in having difficult conversation or in basic mediation to manage conflict. If the meeting is at the staff member's home, try to have a colleague accompany you with the staff member's permission.
Some ways to mend or maintain that relationship may include:scheduling regular conversations to check on the progress of the injured worker and to give them an opportunity to raise any concerns before problems develop furthernominating an alternative support or contactflexibly providing alternative duties that will allow a gradual restoration of the relationshipusing other agreed strategies that are in place to reduce barriers to return to work, such as mediation and other dispute resolution procedures. If so, involve a credible third partyDo not use your involvement as an excuse for lack of actionStart low key, casually and at an informal level but have your facts marshalled. Availability means leaving time outside the business schedule to catch up with people and socialise.
Have specific examples where the person's performance has deteriorated or where it is affecting the performance of othersDo not make a fuss or back the person into a corner. This needs to be tempered with the stress of constant travel and the associated loss of time involved.The clustering when feasible of functions on a campus to warrant the appointment of a team leaderThe use of phone and to a lesser effect e-mail to keep in contact.
Do not operate on a wing and a prayer.If the person's problem is not affecting their performance or that of others be prepared to back off and respect their privacy.
The effectiveness of phone communications is dependant on the quality of the existing relationships. Even when the issue is work-related you must be sensitive to privacy issues.Do not use respect for privacy as an excuse for inaction. If it is refused, leave the offer open whilst continuing to monitor work performance and impact.If a discussion starts to get heated or personal, break it off. Get a third party (HR Partner) involved to protect both yours and the other person's integrityDo not get into arguments.
If the matter needs to be pushed and the person concerned is not responding well, break off and make arrangements for a more formal meetingDo be prepared to act as a sounding board and assist the other person to come to a personally acceptable decision. Facilitate the persons self-development and awarenessDo not act as a judge, confessor or parent. If this is what the person wants, refer them to professional assistance (Employee Assistance Program).
Avoid seeming indifferent but do not become emotionally involvedDo accept that some problems are out of your league. If the matter cannot be resolved locally, identify the best course of action and best forum for its resolutionDo not become involved over your head.



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