We know many health and social care organisations are struggling to retain loyal staff. Recent analysis by Skills for Care showed there were 165,000 vacant posts in the adult social care area alone. Prioritising worker wellbeing, including reducing the risks around work-related stress, is one way your organisation can better attract and retain the people you need to deliver services, and a sustainable future.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says there are six main areas that can lead to work-related stress if not managed properly.
Workers may feel they’re not able to cope with the demands of their jobs.
Workers feel they are unable to control the way they do their work.
Workers feel they don't receive enough information and support.
Workers are having trouble with relationships at work, or are being bullied.
Workers don't fully understand their role and responsibilities.
Workers don’t feel engaged when a business is undergoing change.
The HSE strategy for 2022 to 2032 sets out its priorities and objectives for the next decade. Its first objective is to undertake work to reduce the trend of increasing work-related ill health, with a specific focus on mental health. Employers must assess the risks of work-related stress in their workplace and take action to protect workers from harm.
The HSE has a 96% prosecution rate. It is important to address the risks around work-related stress and poor mental health to help avoid prosecution and have good claims defensibility practices in place.
As well as being the right thing to do, and the legal obligations around doing so, we argue managing work-related stress is a particularly vital area of risk management for health and social care organisations. As the sector faces ongoing staff shortages, protecting worker wellbeing in this way can boost recruitment and retention.
Below, we look at ways health and social care organisations can better look after your employees’ wellbeing.
Many roles within the health and social care sector come with exposure to high emotional demands on your employees. If you don’t manage these effectively, this can manifest as sickness absence, productivity loss, high turnover, complaints and an increase in bullying and grievances.
Where employees are routinely involved in lone working, this could also fuel potential loss of connectedness and feelings of loneliness.
Training around stress and mental health awareness can give your people the skills they need to recognise when they or their colleagues may be experiencing stress or poor mental health. It can empower them to provide support, listen with empathy, as well as build resilience and access appropriate help.
There are some practical steps you can take to help create a culture and workplace that supports employees in feeling more in control of their work, for example when they can take breaks, but also their mental health. This includes providing them with access to resources such as employee assistance programme (EAPs) and mental health or wellbeing apps, as well as occupational health services.
Where you’re providing support such as EAPs, it’s vital you ensure these are well-understood and workers are aware they are available.
An important part of involving employees is around your workplace policies and procedures. You should consult your workers and ensure they’re aware of any workplace procedures that impact their roles. Central to promoting worker wellbeing are clear, effective return-to-work, crisis management, health, safety and wellbeing policies. Well-considered policies can help your people feel in the driving seat of their own health and the way they do their jobs, therefore deepening their loyalty to your organisation, and protecting the business against future claims.
Protecting your workers' psychological health and safety at work means having empathetic line managers able to recognise the signs and symptoms of stress and poor mental health at work and provide support.
However, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) 2022 Health Wellbeing at Work report found only 38% of HR respondents agreed that managers are confident in having sensitive discussions and signposting people to expert sources of help when needed.
These findings suggest getting this right means you may need to invest in upskilling line managers and consider reviewing job descriptions and people-related KPIs.
While line managers have a crucial role in promoting positive employee wellbeing and protecting health and social care employee wellbeing, senior leaders also need to have supportive relationships to give managers and supervisors the time and resources they need to check in with and nurture themselves and their teams.
Developing a culture of psychological safety is essential and you should have systems in place that enable employees to speak up and show vulnerability without fear of reprisal. In particular, psychological safety is a key consideration when reviewing your procedures that deal with allegations of bullying, or where there are issues around relationships in the workplace that are causing work-related stresses.
Are you being sufficiently comprehensive about the realities of the roles you’re recruiting for, particularly in situations where workers are having to deal with additional duties in light of staff shortages, or dealing with potentially vulnerable services?
Being realistic about what’s involved in a job can prevent work-related stress. For example, while a role’s job title might simply be ‘delivery driver’, you may need to make it clear to prospective candidates that they’ll also be expected to, for example, install home adaptation equipment to elderly or disabled customers. This role might encounter people at times when they need additional emotional support and guidance.
Health and social care is amongst the many sectors being transformed by digitisation and AI-enabled technologies, for example, through data-driven approaches to monitoring daily activities of those under your care, and through government funding to pilot digital social care technology with integrated care systems (ICSs).
Where technology may be taking over more areas of service delivery, and while it can create opportunities for staff, it can also introduce uncertainty and insecurity over their roles.
Communicating technological change effectively can reduce its impact on work-related stress. A good starting place is to avoid making assumptions about what employees may want or need to know and instead, consult with them to develop a deep understanding of their needs and concerns.
At a strategic level, having a stress risk assessment in place, identifying hazards to psychological health and safety, introducing robust control measures to protect employees from harm, and having support in place when exposed to hazards to their wellbeing is not only a legal but also a moral imperative.
For specialist support to assess and reduce the risks of work-related stress in your health and social care organisation, get in touch.