Managing stress at work is the responsibility of employers, and yet most search results on this topic focus on what employees should be doing to manage their own stress.
However, a couple of years ago I came across this guidance from the Health and Safety Executive. I think this, and in particular, the “Six Management Standards” is a really helpful tool for employers to assess and address the causes of stress at work.
Managing stress at work is not just about managing resources
I’ve generally been lucky enough to work for employers that care about their employees’ mental health. However, even in the most caring organisations, the conversations tend to revolve around workload and resources.
There is a default assumption that if someone is stressed at work, it is because they’ve got too much on.
However, there are other causes of stress which do not get so much attention, which is why I like the HSE approach. This looks at six key areas of “work design”;
- Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
- Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
- Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
- Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
- Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
- Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation
This resonated with me, because if I think back to times when I’ve been really stressed at work, it is usually factors around control and support (or lack thereof) that have caused the stress.
Relevance to Finance teams
Finance teams are no more or less subject to stress factors, and so all the guidance is useful. However, it’s helpful to think about some of the specific strains that a finance team might be under;
- deadlines that can’t move very easily (demand/control)
- potential disconnect from the operational side of the business (role / change)
- operating a checking / control role that can lead to tension and conflict (relationships)
- running regular processes such as payroll that the organisation only notices when something goes wrong (support)
Similarly, finance teams can cause stress to others by;
- issuing sudden demands for information (control/demand)
- making changes to processes without proper consultation or user involvement (Change/support)
- only highlighting negative trends (support)
(Self) Awareness is key
I think lots of conversations around stress, if they happen at all, default to conversations about resourcing, because that’s a topic that managers are comfortable with. We like to think we can help our team prioritise, or do things quicker, or perhaps we act like superheroes and parachute in additional resources (Probably our own time).
But perhaps we’re trying to solve the wrong problem.
This is why the HSE risk assessment toolkit, and the associated conversations that go with it, is such a helpful framework. Do check it out.