Stress management guidance for line managers

Stress can be defined as 'the adverse reaction to excessive pressure'. Pressure is often part and parcel of work and helps to keep people motivated. Excessive and/or poorly managed exposure to pressure can lead to stress. Members of staff who experience stress, anxiety, or depression are less likely to perform effectively. This can be costly to management and the member of staff.

We recognise that unhealthy levels of stress can affect our mental, physical, and emotional well-being, and the University wants to encourage a culture of openness and support.  We understand that individuals may also be affected by issues outside of work that can increase the likelihood of them experiencing acute or chronic stress. More information is available in the Stress Management Policy (.docx). 

Manager responsibilities

It is essential that managers have an active role in facilitating and supporting staff to do their jobs effectively and to contribute to the success of their team and the University as a whole. As line managers and supervisors, you are responsible for the health and safety of your team, and this includes ensuring that their work-related stress is managed and minimised. Your management style can have an impact on stress, so it is important that you are aware of good management practices and that you develop your management skills. It is also important that you recognise the signs of stress in your team and know what support to give team members who may be suffering from stress. 

The HSE Stress Management Competency Indicator can help assess your effectiveness at preventing and reducing stress in your staff and identify your developmental needs. These tools allow for a mixture of self-assessment and input from peers, staff and senior managers. 

 If you need more training, check the Management Development programme for resources and opportunities. 

Impacts of stress

Impact on the department 

Stress will impact on work performance and productivity and lead to increased absenteeism, staff turnover and accident rates.  If stress is not addressed, staff may be at risk of developing further mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, or physical health problems, such as heart disease, upper limb or digestive disorders.

It is generally accepted that the longer a member of staff is absent from work with stress, the harder it is for them to return. This will have a significant effect on their emotional and economic wellbeing and departments risk losing a valuable member of their team.

As a university that wants to be recognised for its world-class research, we cannot afford to lose the knowledge and expertise of our researchers, or the staff who support them. Absence of team members will increase pressure on other staff, making it harder for the team to meet its objectives or to give students a quality teaching experience.

Impact on the University

The University has to bear the costs of long-term sickness absences, ill-health retirements, the replacement and retraining of staff, and possible litigation. Stress is recognised as a health and safety issue and failure to address it could lead to enforcement action, impacting negatively on the University's reputation.

University Commitments

Reasonable pressure at work can be positive and motivating. However, work-related stress can occur when pressure exceeds a person’s capacity to cope. The cause of work-related stress will vary between individuals. The stage at which excessive pressure leads to work-related stress will also vary between individuals.

We are committed to taking all reasonable steps to make sure that the health of our staff is not put at risk because of too much pressure or excessive demands at work. In this spirit, we will work with managers and staff to achieve steps to minimise the risk of high stress. For more details, please see the Stress Management Policy

Principles of good management


  • Have clear regular two-way communication with your staff. Are there formal meetings? Is there the opportunity for informal discussions?
  • Recognise and praise individual or group achievements, hard work and efforts
  • Give supportive and constructive criticism when required
  • Provide opportunities for staff members to discuss their concerns.  Listen sympathetically to their concerns and take action about these concerns as appropriate
  • Communicate and discuss team objectives, mission and values
  • Involve staff in proposed changes in staff, work tasks and responsibilities
  • Think through the impact your actions and decisions have on the staff for whom you have responsibility
  • Give time to individual members of staff

Work design

  • Have clear roles and responsibilities for your staff which they understand and work to
  • Regularly review known work pressures such as excessive workload, tight deadlines, staffing levels, and need for staff skills development
  • Identify jobs where stress has been or is a problem and see what can be done to reduce the risk of stress to the staff member in the role
  • Ensure that instructions and requests to staff are clear and are not conflicting
  • Allow flexible work schedules when this is practicable
  • Where possible, ensure staff have some control over their work tasks and that their work has variety

Health, safety, and wellbeing

  • Where there are relationship problems, tackle these early, identify issues and agree the steps to try and resolve the matter
  • Ensure staff members are not working over their contracted hours on a regular basis
  • Encourage staff to take their full entitlement of holidays each year
  • Provide as good a work environment as possible with the appropriate equipment to do the work efficiently
  • Make sure you follow up on concerns that members of staff report to you and feed them back on steps taken to address the concerns

Actions to support staff who feel stressed

  • Treat stressed staff in the same way as those with a physical health problem
  • Discuss the issue with individuals and demonstrate that you are concerned about their health
  • Consider a formal stress risk assessment when making significant changes or if there are signs that staff may be experiencing work-related stress
  • If work is affected, discuss the problem with your Employee Relations Adviser or refer the individual to Occupational Health
  • Ask if there is anything you can do to help
  • Consider any simple adjustments to work, taking account of the risk factors given above
  • Advise the individual about sources of help within or outside the University (available on the Wellbeing Directory)
  • Actively follow up with an individual staff member who has stated that they are stressed and continue to demonstrate your wish to support them
  • Monitor sickness absence. If a staff member has frequent short absences or is absent with a stress-related illness, contact Occupational Health early for advice
  • Review and, if necessary, modify the work tasks and responsibilities of individuals who have had sickness absence due to stress or depression, and continue to monitor their progress

Risk factors for stress

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) management standards identifies the following risk factors for work-related stress:

  • support: non-supportive culture from managers and colleagues, inability to access support 
  • role: ambiguity or conflict in roles, poor definition of objectives/tasks
  • control: lack of control over pace or time of work, little participation in decision-making
  • relationship: conflict, bullying or harassment, poor communication or problem-solving
  • demand: tight deadlines, work overload/under-load, conflicting demands at work and home
  • change: poor information about proposed changes, inadequate training to support changes

Find out more about the HSE Management Standards and implementing them.

Stress risk assessment

Completing a stress risk assessment involves looking at current practice in relation to the HSE Management Standards and determining whether enough has been done to manage the risk or whether more needs to be done. It can be done individually or as a team and can be formal process using the stress risk assessment form (.docx), or an informal discussion using the standards as a guide. If you do an informal assessment, you should still make a record of the outcomes.

To support you with completing the Stress Risk Assessment, you can ask the individual or team to complete the following:

  • Perceived Stress Assessment tool (.docx) – This is designed to measure individual stress levels by looking at how different situations affect feelings and thinking.
  • Stressor Assessment tool (.docx) – This questionnaire helps to identify the areas under the HSE Management Standards where support may be required

Occupational Health Advisers may recommend stress risk assessment for individuals who have been suffering stress. It is also a useful to carry out assessments for teams where there are stress related issues or are undergoing significant change.

If you need help with carrying out stress risk assessment, contact your link Employee Relations Adviser 

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Occupational Health team
Telephone: 01206 872399