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ACAS guidance published on managing stress in the workplace

ACAS have published their long-awaited guidance to employers on how to manage stress in the workplace.

Andrew Collier
Andrew Collier HR Adviser
Acas has this week published new guidance and advice for employers on managing work-related stress, following a survey in March 2023 which revealed that one third of workers believe their employer is not effective at managing stress at work. 
The Acas advice sets out how a variety of factors at work may cause stress, such as too many or conflicting demands, poor working conditions, lack of control, lack of support, bullying, insufficient training, lack of role clarity, low trust or organisational change. Personal circumstances including bereavement, divorce, menopause, caring responsibilities, poor health or financial worries may also have an impact on work-related stress. The advice notes that, although employees do not have to tell their employer about personal problems, their employer may be able to support them, for example, by referring them to an employee assistance programme (EAP), granting time off or agreeing temporary changes to their role or working pattern.
Employers are advised to look out for signs of stress among staff and have a private, informal chat at an early stage. Managers should make time for this, be open-minded, ask questions and listen. The parties should work together on possible solutions, which may involve signposting any internal or external help or encouraging the employee to complete a "wellness action plan". Employers must respect confidentiality, although if there is a good reason to do so, it must be clear who information will be shared with and why. If an employee is absent due to stress, the employer should keep in contact and ensure that a return-to-work meeting takes place. Disabled employees are entitled to reasonable adjustments, although Acas advises that employers should still discuss with non-disabled employees any potential adjustments that may help. An action plan, with a clear review date, may be of assistance.
To create a positive environment, employers should have a policy on mental health and stress, and carry out risk assessments and staff surveys. Staff should be encouraged to raise concerns and managers should have appropriate training. Supportive measures may include promoting work-life balance, providing an EAP or training on stress management techniques. Employees should look after themselves by increasing their own awareness of what causes them stress, taking regular breaks, speaking to their employer about any causes of stress and making use of any support offered.

It is important to note that the ACAS guidance is not legally binding and is, in reality, no more than advice to employers and some may feel that it has not provided employers with any meaningful nuggets of wisdom - and has stated what is perhaps, to most employers, already obvious (though not necessarily always easy to implement in practice).  Employers who entirely disregard the ACAS guidance, though, ought not to be surprised to find that their failure to consider it will be cited as part of any Employment Tribunal claim or, before that, a grievance!

Photo by Elisa Ventur via Unsplash

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