Stress Policy


The University of Stirling’s Policy on Stress has been developed by Human Resources Services working in association with Safety, Environment and Continuity in consultation with management and staff representatives.  The policy applies to all employees, workers and students on work placement.  This policy has the same status and force as all other University policies, therefore, failure to comply with its conditions may result in disciplinary action.

Definition of Stress

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define stress as “an adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other  types of demands placed on them”

Life places demands and pressures on all of us, but if these stressors become too great or exist for a prolonged period of time they can affect our health.  Stressors can originate from within the workplace or from our lives outside the office, eg bereavement; break up of a relationship; financial situation.

Stress is not the same as ‘pressure’.  Pressure can be motivating and challenging and can actually improve performance and whilst each of us has a different ability to cope with pressure this can fluctuate according to our personal situations.  Additionally, each role carries with it a performance level which the employee is expected to meet.  However, if the individual’s ability to cope decreases and/or the expectations upon him or her are too high, potential health risks can result.

Stress and its implications

Whilst the HSE have sought to define ‘stress’, you will not find ‘stress’ in the classification of illness, diseases and disorders used in the UK.  Therefore ‘stress’ on its own has rarely been a sufficient diagnosis to succeed in a personal injury case: a clinical diagnosis would have been required from a recognised expert eg a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.  However, recent changes to the disability legislation now allow for some conditions without a clinical diagnosis to be included as potential disabilities. 

Nonetheless it is accepted that ‘stress’ (as defined by the HSE) can affect individuals emotionally (eg irritability, anger, depression); physically (eg raised blood pressure, tiredness, headaches); mentally (impairment of perception, concentration or memory); interpersonally (eg relationship become more difficult) or at work (poor time keeping, accidents, erratic attendance).

The Causes of Stress

There are many aspects of our day-to-day working lives that place us under pressure and any of these in excess may lead to a stress reaction.  Some examples might be:

  • Skill and knowledge inadequate for the job
  • Work over- or under- load
  • Role outwith the capabilities of the employee
  • The working environment and working conditions
  • Lack of control over when or the way work is done
  • Inflexible or late-notified deadlines
  • Work patterns conflict with current personal responsibilities
  • Too little or too much decision-making
  • Inadequate support from colleagues or managers
  • Inadequate resources to complete work
  • Inadequate feedback on performance
  • Discrimination or inequality of treatment
  • Conflict between managers or colleagues
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Mismatch of expectations of role between manager and employee
  • Poor communication and consultation between institution and employee especially during periods of change
  • Organisational culture or management style
  • Policies, procedures and practices inadequate for the purpose.

Any attempt to reduce the factors which cause pressure at work has to be a partnership between senior management, local management and the employee.  This does mean that we need to be aware of our own abilities and to take steps to improve our own coping mechanisms.  Sometimes just talking things over with colleagues and peers can go a long way towards relieving anxiety.  Such staff are likely to be very familiar with the work and schedules of the department and they may have already developed coping mechanisms of their own that they could share with you.  If you are unable to resolve your difficulties locally, there are a number of areas within the University that could offer support in this area.

Definition of Mental Health

There are many uses of the term “mental health” ranging from a concept that is essentially about mental illness, through a continuum that includes mental illness, mental unfitness (i.e. being unfit without being unwell) and ideas of positive mental health and well-being.  This policy recognises that the whole continuum is relevant within a University environment and seeks to encompass both the legal obligations and the social imperatives of equality and natural justice.

Legal Obligations

The University of Stirling acknowledges that it has the same duty of care for the mental health and well-being of its employees as it does for safety and physical well-being.  It will treat stress in the same way as any other health hazard and assess the risks relating to it.  The University is cognizant that it has responsibilities under Health and safety and disability legislation and that full observance of other discrimination legislation is also necessary to support mental well-being.  The University will act to prevent risks that are reasonably foreseeable and will make reasonable adjustments where practicable. Any recording of information will conform with the latest data protection requirements.

Policy statement and commitment

The University of Stirling recognises that stress, especially chronic stress, can be a considerable risk to both physical and mental health.  This policy explains the actions the University is taking as an employer in regard to work-related stress. The aim is to prevent stress and mental health problems occurring if possible, but also to state what will be done if there are employees experiencing stress-related problems.

The University is committed to promoting a healthy environment and a supportive climate, and facilitating the development of an increasingly non-stigmatising, well informed University community. The University is working towards a culture of openness where stress is not seen as a personal weakness and where employees experiencing stress or mental health problems can access appropriate support.

The University is committed to:

  • Undertaking regular risk assessments and taking action to reduce risks once identified.
  • Raising awareness of stress and mental health issues by improving the quality and accessibility of information.
  • Helping staff at all levels develop their knowledge and skills in this area through the provision of appropriate training opportunities.
  • Providing services that support staff with stress-related issues.
  • Ensuring that all policies, practices and procedures are consistent with promoting the mental health of the University community.
  • Liaising and working with external agencies who can offer complementary or additional support to students and staff.

Risk Assessment

As with any activity, the University undertakes that may affect the safety, health or welfare of staff, a risk assessment must be carried out to identify the risks arising from work hazards and implement measures to control these. The assessment process must consider all hazards and it is, therefore, necessary to consider the risks to psychological health as well as to physical health. In the context of stress, the risk assessment must identify those institutional and individual factors that could contribute towards stress at work and to take effective action to minimise that risk.

The assessment of the hazards associated with work stress aims to identify:

  • Factors at work that are likely to cause stress
  • Whether those factors are currently causing stress
  • Those employees who are at risk of experiencing work stress
  • Existing preventative or precautionary measures
  • The action that is required to eliminate or reduce the risk

Although the principles of risk assessment remain the same for stress as for any other type of risk assessment, there are complex and sensitive issues that have to be addressed.

To perform a risk assessment for sources of stress the University aims to draw upon:

  • information from health and performance indicators, such as sickness absence, occupational health referrals, decrease in productivity,
  • information from objective assessments, including staff attitude and behaviours, excessive working hours, organisational change, physical conditions,
  • information from subjective assessments, including stress audits and, surveys.

Although local assessments must identify sources of workplace stress within departments wherever practicable a level of anonymity and confidentiality will be maintained. For this reason, the University intends to use external independent analysts when conducting institutional staff surveys.

The information from the assessments is recorded and an action plan produced to prioritise and  tackle the sources of stress. The assessment for workplace stress will also be regularly reviewed, not only to ensure that work related stress is being monitored but also to confirm that the actions to reduce the sources of stress are effective.


The Role of the Manager

Managers have a critical role in minimising and managing stress risks, in offering support to employees and in facilitating support from elsewhere as necessary.  Managers will receive relevant training to give them the skills and knowledge to be able to implement the policy, however, they are not expected to take on the role of counsellor.  Managers will be expected to use good communication skills in their tackling of stress-related issues and to be consistent in their approach to stress-related absence.

As part of the normal management processes, managers are expected to:

  • Identify employees’ training and development needs, especially for new staff or staff undertaking new types of work or a new role
  • Monitor and review the workloads and working time of staff to ensure that neither becomes excessive
  • Manage poor performance and attendance effectively to prevent unnecessary pressures on colleagues in teams
  • Be clear about the roles, responsibilities and expectations placed on staff and communicate these effectively to the staff concerned
  • Be flexible where appropriate, especially in the case of making reasonable adjustments for staff with mental health problems or where phased returns to work are necessary following stress-related absence
  • Encourage openness of communication especially in regard to work pressures, and not to foster a culture that sees stress as a personal weakness
  • Seek support form Human Resources Services and/or Occupational Health Unit if in any doubt about action to take in regard to a stress-related issue
  • Not to advocate or support a ‘long-hours’ culture.

Role of Employees

Stress is not a sign of weakness and anybody at any time may experience stress for a variety of reasons.  Employees should not hesitate to seek support if they are experiencing stress or feel they are at risk of stress.  Staff should speak to their line managers in the first instance, but may also approach HRS or the OHU directly if this is more appropriate.

If you feel that the pressure of work is beginning to affect your health or performance, it is important to take action early especially if you cannot foresee any lightening of the pressure in the near future.  Pressures outside of work can also affect our health, and whilst the University cannot control external factors, it is committed to eliminating or reducing factors with the institution which may affect the health of its employees.

If you identify any physical aspect of your working environment which is adding to your feeling of pressure, eg poor lighting, badly-sited workstation, this should be reported immediately and can be addressed fairly quickly. All departments have safety representatives and work station assessors who will take your issues forward for you.  If the pressure is caused by the nature of your work, the design of your job or the organisational style, discuss these issues with your supervisor or head of section or department, it may be possible to make adjustments in the short or long term to ease the feeling of pressure.

Whilst managers have a responsibility to manage excessive workloads, individuals have a clear responsibility towards themselves and others to minimise excessive pressures and demands by behaving responsibly and acting reasonably and reporting any concerns regarding stress to managers.  Managers cannot be expected to act on stress-related problems of which they are unaware.

Some jobs are more pressured at some times than at others, so if it isn’t possible to change the working practices, it is important to ensure that you are as prepared as possible to cope with that pressure.  Some work pressures are caused by being inadequately trained, or by having insufficient knowledge.  If this is the case you should raise the matter with your manager so that appropriate development can be arranged. 

Rest and recreation are recognised as important aspects of health, and if these are neglected over a long period, both health and work performance will suffer.  Working over-long hours and not taking holidays is counter-productive. Belief and attitude are other important aspects of our ability to cope, and if these are positive, we are better equipped to deal with the demands of life.

Some other skills can aid our ability to deal with pressure such as assertiveness, negotiation, and good time management.  An effective support network and utilising team-working can also vastly improve how we deal with pressure.

Training for managers and staff

Managers are at the front line in terms of assessing, minimising and managing the risk of stress. Therefore all managers will be required to undertake appropriate training to provide them with the necessary skills and knowledge to implement the University’s policy on stress.  Such training will cover both statutory requirements such as risk assessment and focus on prevention and proactive approaches.  The emphasis will be on managing people to enhance mental well-being rather than merely to address problems.

Training will also be available to all employees to raise awareness of the policy on stress, to draw attention to their responsibilities and those of their managers and preventative and support measures.  In addition training on a variety of coping mechanisms will also be available either through face to face sessions, on-line learning or via support materials.


How awareness will be raised

In order to ensure the effectiveness of the University’s Policy on Stress it is important that all staff are aware of it and their responsibilities under it.  Initially all staff will receive a hard-copy of the policy incorporated into the Well-being at Work booklet.  This document will also be available on the University web pages.  The launch of this booklet will be supported by a programme of awareness raising events held on all University campuses.

After the initial launch of the policy, information on stress and risk reduction will be incorporated into the general induction for all staff and incorporated into all relevant training.  Information on assessing and reducing risk will also be available on-line and incorporated into the heads of department and staff handbooks and other relevant publications.

Support structures

Human Resources Services

Human Resources Services (HRS) provides HR advice and support and incorporates the HR Development Centre (HRDC) as well as the Occupational Health Unit (OHU).  These services provide advice and guidance on all matters relating to employment including those affecting the well-being of staff.  HRS is staffed by professional and support staff and is committed to providing a high quality service.  The main office is situated in Cottrell building (Room 4B1) on the Stirling campus. Any member of staff needing advice or assistance is encouraged to contact the office. Full details of the office staff and their various areas of responsibility are provided at the general induction for all new staff and are published on the Human Resources web pages.

Human Resources Development Centre

The HRDC runs a programme of courses throughout the year which address work-related development needs (eg teaching and learning, research, people management) and “soft” or transferable skills such as time management, delegation, communication etc. In addition many awareness raising sessions are offered relating to University policies, eg sickness absence, equality and practical sessions which support these policies for example managing people, stress and posture, rest and relaxation.

The Centre also maintains self-study resources some of which are available on-line via the Centre’s web-pages, some from the Stirling Campus Library and some direct from the Centre.

Staff from the centre are happy to advise how individual training needs may be met, either through central provision or via on-the-job training, on-line learning or other training intervention.

Full details of current programmes may be accessed and places booked via the Human Resources Development web-pages.

Occupational Health Unit

The occupational health services in the University are currently provided by Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Services (OHSAS).

The aim of the University’s association with OHSAS is to provide a comprehensive range of expert services to improve the physical and mental well-being of all staff and monitor a healthy and safe working environment through a programme of health surveillance.  The range of services provided by OHSAS includes:

  • Self-referrals by staff and advice to them on work-related health matters
  • Health promotion initiatives (eg smoking cessation, life-style MOTs, healthy eating)
  • Occupational immunisations and screening for existing staff
  • Environmental monitoring including workplace visits
  • Advice on reasonable work-related adjustments for staff with disabilities
  • Managerial referrals on sickness absence cases.

Further information can be found on the Occupational Health Unit’s web-pages.

Safety, Environment, Security and Continuity (SESC)

SESC are involved in the provision of advice on safety, health and environmental issues across all areas of the University. If staff have any concerns about these issues, in the first instance they should contact their supervisor, departmental safety or fire officer or workstation assessor.  SESC are always willing to offer support and advice if departmental representatives are unavailable or if confidential advice is required.  Further information is available from the SESC web-pages.

Student Support Services

Student Support Services encompasses the Careers and Employability Service, Information and Advice Centre and Counselling and Well-being.  Whilst SSS is primarily a student service, it does hold a great deal of information concerning local support groups and services and is happy to pass this information on to staff. The counselling service is provided only for students, but if staff are in crisis counsellors will respond.  The service is currently located in the Cottrell building on the Stirling campus, although there is also a part-time counsellor on situation on the Highland campus. Advice can also be accessed via the Student Support Service’s web pages.

Chaplaincy Centre

A central role of the Chaplains is to encourage the well-being of the University by providing help of a pastoral/spiritual/personal nature to anyone in the University community who requires it. The Centre is situated in the social area of Stirling Campus just beyond the supermarket and most days you will find one of the Chaplains there.  The Chaplaincy is an independent unit within the University and many faiths are represented. Further information can be accessed via the Chaplaincy website here.

Related University Policies and guidance

A number of other University policies and guidance documents exist that should be considered in conjunction with the University’s Policy on Stress. These are:

  • Sickness absence management policy
  • The policy on drugs and alcohol misuse
  • Diversity and Equal Opportunities Policy Statement
  • Flexible working and maternity/paternity-related policies
  • Harassment policy

All of these policies can be found on the University’s website.

Evaluation and Review

The implementation and management of the policy will be monitored, evaluated and reviewed annually by HR Services and the outcomes and any recommendation passed to the Safety Health and Environment Committee for action.