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Helping RIBA Chartered Practices managing stress amongst staff

Access advice on managing stress

14 December 2017

It is well documented that doctors’ notes for anxiety, low-mood and stress-related illnesses arrive at an increasing rate at this time of year.

Jenny Humphries is an Employment Consultant at employment law and HR consultant Croner and one of the people that will pick up the phone to take referrals from RIBA Chartered Practices seeking advice on how they can best support struggling staff members.

‘The first call is typically from an employer who says they really want to support an employee and they are looking for a plan of action. It often precedes that first meeting they are going to have, and how they should approach it,’ says Robinson.

The advice at the outset is invariably the same: talk to the staff member and ask questions, perhaps starting with ‘Is there anything we should be aware of?’.

The aim must be to understand what are the causes of the problems, because any management response should flow from there.

Talking to an employee to understand what lies behind their stress or anxiety is always the first step in stress management.

Another common situation might be the employee ignoring calls to come in for a meeting to discuss what is going on, but sending in repeated doctors’ notes. Robinson advises that repeat ‘sick notes’ should not simply be taken at face value and the situation left unresolved.

‘Sick notes are commonly used as a tactic to put off or avoid that chat with management that the employee is expecting. Or it might be fear of a disciplinary procedure.’.

Problems may be work related – pressure of deadlines, bullying – or may be down to work life balance. They could equally be family related, partner related, stem from substance use or lifestyle. Any support needs to be informed by an understanding of the cause.

Where the problem is stress or anxiety, the aim should be to discover what the stress triggers are, and then to look at practical measures that can help these triggers be avoided.

Employers may be able to help their staff deal with stressful situations even though they may not be directly work related. Robinson recalls a case where an employee had lost a child at Christmas time, triggering anxiety each year at that time.

‘If the employer understands, then there may be options to look at, perhaps working from home, taking some time off, or even being released from work for a period,’ suggests Robinson.

‘In a small practice, the loss of one person can have a huge impact on the business, so the employer will be looking for a step-by-step approach to manage the problem. Whatever the urgency, the key imperative is to try to discover what is causing the problem. If it is work related, then employers are expected to make “reasonable adjustments”, both from a management and employment law point of view.’

One of the most common sources of stress among staff is practice restructuring. Employers should take note that asking people to work in a different way, even if it may be more efficient, can cause far more hidden anxiety among some staff members than they might expect. That is because restructuring a practice relies on the restructuring of individual work roles.

Many larger employers choose to offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), usually an outsourced service that is there to offer support and advice to employees whenever they need it. The service is free and confidential for employees.

Its advantage over practice management is that support and advice will be offered by trained consultants, rather than a well-meaning but possibly struggling senior practice member. Its presence is also a clear demonstration to employees that the practice wants to support its staff.

RIBA members can request a referral to the Croner helpline for advise on stress management. Members get one initial telephone consultation for free, which is not time limited.

Thanks to Jenny Humphries, Employment Consultant, Croner.

by Neal Morris. This is a ‘Practice News’ post edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas

RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Health, safety and wellbeing.
As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Practice News counts as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.

14 December 2017

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