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Emma Woollacott

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In a Nutshell: Seven tips for managing stress-related illness


Cardiff and Vale University Health Board is one of the largest NHS organisations in the UK, providing health services for those living in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.

The Board employs around 14,500 staff and manages nine hospitals and 17 health centres among other responsibilities.
Its aim is to take a preventative approach to managing stress-related ill health. To this end, the organisation uses a ‘hot-spot’ approach to pick out those departments where action is most needed, based on management information such as absence rates and disciplinary and grievance data.
It also has a comprehensive in-house wellbeing service for personnel who are encouraged to consider accessing its use as something routine and everyday rather than as a sign of weakness.
The wellbeing service is headed by psychologist Dr Clare Wright who says that managing staff in such a way as to promote their health and wellbeing is no different from following standard good management practice. Moreover, positive employee management is likely to promote mental wellbeing in the office, which is important because it is generally bad management that causes stress, she believes.
So what does this mean in practice and what advice does she have to offer?
  1. Give positive feedback: Also praise and thank staff for a job well done in a genuine way. Too often, people feel they’re only called in to talk to their line managers when they’ve done something wrong.
  2. Quash a long hours culture: Don’t let people get into a long hours culture – it’s actually OK to leave at five o’clock. If a manager arrives at 7am and doesn’t leave until 6.30pm, it makes it much harder for other people to work their assigned number of hours.
  3. Ensure staff take breaks: Do as much as you can to enable employees to take their breaks and, if possible, have somewhere outside where they can sit, even if it’s only on a wall. Reducing smoking is good for people’s health, but what smokers have got right is the idea of going for a quick break, particularly outdoors. Going for a cup of tea also rejuvenates us.
  4. Communicate effectively: It’s always important to tell staff what’s going on – communication is so important for managing stress. Even if you don’t know what’s happening yourself, you can tell personnel that you have no news as yet, but will tell them when you do – and they will feel a bit better.
  5. Act on employee input: One of the key changes we have made involves listening to staff, asking what would make a difference to them and then acting on it. Many of the things that reduce stress are tiny – they’re not rocket science. Have robust systems of communication and regular meetings – they don’t have to be long – where employees can say what they think.
  6. Take action early on: Try not to allow things to develop into a situation where you have to go through a formal management process, but empower managers to nip the problem in the bud. Often managers just hope the problem will go away or want to move somebody around within the organisation.
  7. Keep in touch: When managing long-term sickness, pick up the phone regularly to the individual concerned. It’s not just about doing return-to-work exercises as a tick-box thing. You need to see what will actually make a difference to them and their lives.

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