Manage stress to avoid the crisis

Often the risk of stress is overlooked as it is less obvious than other business risks. However, employers are required to assess the risks of stress-related ill health arising from work activities and take steps to control those risks, as they would any other risks.

Why manage stress?

Stress and depression result in an increased absence from work, a higher turnover of employees and poor morale.  Individuals suffering with stress also pose a greater risk to themselves and to colleagues because of the symptoms associated with the condition such as poor memory, the inability to concentrate and indecision. Clearly, these attributes are undesirable in any working environment, but especially so in already high-risk workplaces, for example, where operating heavy machinery. Quite simply, a highly stressed workforce can result in more accidents. Indeed, there is evidence that managing stress at work results in fewer witnessed errors and near misses. 

In recent years, the poor state of the economy has contributed to an increase in stress at work. Restructuring organisations, businesses without budget to replace leavers and austere changes to terms and conditions, with the side effects of increased workloads and risk of redundancy, have contributed to an increase in stress amongst employees.  

Worst case scenario – stress related workplace accident

No business wants to deal with a workplace accident, especially one in which someone is seriously injured or killed.  Arguably, incidents caused or exacerbated by stress at work can be even more difficult to deal with. The same issues arise as when dealing with any other workplace accident, for example, dealing with the media, the family and insurers, supporting colleagues and witnesses, demands on management time and a potential criminal investigation and civil claim. However, because of the perceived root cause these issues can be more complicated and more emotional.    

Best practice for successful work-place stress management

HSE recommends using the five steps to risk assessment, as you would when assessing other workplace risks, and has identified six primary sources of stress at work (the Management Standards) to supplement the assessment. These include:

  • Demands – employees should be able to cope with the demands of their jobs and systems should be in place to address any concerns
  • Control – employees should have an appropriate degree of control over how they do their own work
  • Support – employees should receive adequate support from their colleagues and managers
  • Relationships – employees should not be subjected to unacceptable behaviour, for example, bullying should be dealt with
  • Role – employees should understand their roles and responsibilities and systems should be in place to address any concerns
  • Change – employees should be engaged when the workplace is undergoing organisational change.


In some workplaces, stress can be one of the greatest risks to employees’ health and safety, but all too often it is overlooked and this can lead businesses into crisis situations. Taking the time to properly asses the risk of stress at work can help to prevent work absence, inefficiency and errors whilst reducing economic and business costs as whole. 

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Claire Notley


I am an Associate specialising in regulatory law and enforcement.