People Management: Coaching session

Stephen Bubb

Q: We were involved in the recent disaster relief. Now some of our staff say they're stressed. What do I do?

The aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami showed third sector organisations at their best - getting stuck in and going all out to provide help for others; no mucking around with bureaucratic rules and public sector processes.

And our staff showed their true mettle, their dedication and enthusiasm.

Such effort can have a cost, and it is important that we don't ignore the need for measures to combat stress in the workplace, especially given a recent flood of compensation claims. A recent survey of 1,400 personnel managers by Human Resources magazine and law firm Asb found that 80 per cent of the organisations involved had not introduced stress risk assessments, as required by law.

Employers have a legal duty of care towards their staff, which includes implementing policies to minimise the impact of stress-related illness.

You should use this as an opportunity to review your own HR policies.

You do not need to go overboard, but get advice on how to do this. In particular, have you conducted a stress audit? Do you monitor stress-related absence? If not, start now.

Many Acevo members have now introduced employee assistance schemes (a very good one is run by the Teachers' Benevolent Fund - email me for details).

This provides a confidential hotline on which all staff can raise issues and problems, whether work-related or to do with family or finances - it's easy to forget that stress occurs outside the workplace too.

Deal individually with these cases and look at the support, workload and time to recover your staff get. Their managers need to give support, and this would be a good time to remind all managers to watch out for stress. Of course, this is difficult when we are under-resourced, and now there's been another disaster. But don't ignore the issue.

Equally, don't get carried away. A small minority will use 'stress' to justify underperformance and a poor work record. Unfortunately, there are people who have seen the current trend for compensation claims and want to jump on the bandwagon. Luckily, it is easy to spot the genuine cases.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send questions to

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