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Six standards for managing work-related stress in architectural practices

The Health and Safety Executive’s Working Minds initiative seeks to normalise conversations around work-related stress and make them as routine as managing any other health and safety issue.

16 February 2023

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is calling on smaller employers to sign up and become Working Minds Champions, demonstrating an active commitment to preventing and managing work-related stress.

Practice managers have become increasingly focused on the mental health and wellbeing of team members, with stress, depression, and anxiety cited as the biggest cause of work-related ill health in the UK.

However, small practices are unlikely to have formal management systems in place to deal with these issues and the initiative seeks to give managers the guidance and support they need so they can adopt a management response to stress in the workplace.

Work-related stress is one of the most common causes of illness in the workplace. Video by HSE on Working Minds partners - one year on.

What tools are available through the scheme?

Small employers often aren’t aware that they have legal duties in this area, says Mark Ashby, Senior Policy Advisor in HSE’s Construction Division.

“The Working Minds campaign is about raising awareness and giving managers simple tools and guidance on how they can comply with their duties,” he says. “The HSE wants to see small employers recognising and responding to signs of work-related stress so it becomes as routine as managing any other health and safety at work risk.”

The campaign is aimed primarily at employers with 20 or fewer staff members, though the message and its tools can be applicable at any level.

At the heart of the Working Minds campaign is the work-related stress Talking Toolkit. This is designed to help and encourage managers to talk to staff via structured conversations that help to identify causes of stress and possible solutions. The recommendations provided by the toolkit are meant to be preventative, but should also signpost any risks that need managing.

The HSE website has a range of other information to help.

Six key standards help to steer conversation (Image: Unsplash)

How six key standards can help to identify and work through stress

The toolkits have been developed for smaller organisations so they can gather data at one-to-one or team level, as an alternative to the survey approach that larger organisations might use, or the focus group element of the formalised ‘Management Standards’ approach.

Structured conversations, all with suggested talking points, are organised into six management areas.

Conversation one – demands:

  • coping with the demands of the job
  • making demands achievable in relation to hours worked
  • matching skills to demands
  • listening to and addressing concerns about the work environment

Conversation two – control:

  • consultation over the way work is organised and undertaken through meetings and performance reviews
  • opportunities for discussion and input at the start of projects or new pieces of work
  • encouragement to use skills and initiative
  • encouragement to develop new skills and undertake new and challenging pieces of work

Conversation three – support:

  • information and support from other employees and managers
  • systems to enable and encourage managers to support employees and for employees to support one another
  • knowing what support is available and how to access it
  • knowing how to access resources
  • receiving regular and constructive feedback

Conversation four – relationships:

  • unacceptable behaviours such as bullying or harassment
  • promotion of positive behaviours at work
  • agreed policies and procedures to prevent or resolve unacceptable behaviour
  • systems in place to encourage managers to deal with unacceptable behaviour
  • systems in place to encourage employees to report unacceptable behaviour

Conversation five – role:

  • understanding roles and responsibilities
  • provision of information to understand roles and responsibilities
  • making clear what the organisation requires
  • ability to raise concerns about uncertainties or conflicts through the systems in place

Conversation six – change:

  • engagement when undergoing change
  • provision of timely information on proposed changes
  • consultation on changes and opportunities to influence proposals
  • awareness of probable impact of changes
  • training that may be needed to support changes

Normalising conversations around work-related stress

Timing and frequency of conversations will vary between practices of different sizes and structures, of course, but Mark says practices should be trying to normalise conversations about mental health and the pressures that might be causing workplace stress as far as possible.

Such an exercise can be regarded as an organisational risk assessment in itself, he suggests. The Working Minds campaign stresses the importance of making such exercises routine.

The HSE is hoping that Working Minds will raise awareness of stress in the workplace and the impact it has on mental health and business. It is calling on its ‘Champions’ to help it with engagement in return for support, perhaps by sharing social posts or getting involved in peer group forums.

Sign up to become a Working Minds Champion and share your experiences with others.

The Archictects Benevolent Society also offers confidential advice and assistance with mental health and wellbeing issues.

Thanks to Mark Ashby, Senior Policy Advisor – Construction Division, Health and Safety Executive.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum topic: Health, safety and wellbeing

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