Skip navigation to content

Occupational stress policy


The University seeks to maintain a positive and supportive working environment for all its employees. It accepts that stressors in the workplace can have a detrimental and negative impact on the organisation and employees – affecting health, morale, absenteeism and work performance. The University is committed to protecting the health, safety and welfare of its employees and, via this policy and other guidance, aims to establish an effective and consistent approach to the prevention and management of occupational stress throughout the University. It has adopted the approach recommended by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is based on a set of ‘Management Standards’ primarily concentrating on 6 key areas; Demands, Control, Support, Relationships, Roles and Change.  View Appendix 1 for full details on the Management Standards.


The University adopts the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) definition of stress:

 “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed upon them”

This definition makes an important distinction between pressure, which can be a positive state and a motivating factor when managed correctly and stress, which can occur when pressure becomes excessive, which can be detrimental to an employee’s health.

It should be remembered that stress is a state and not an illness and where it lasts for a short time there are normally no lasting effects.  However, where stress is sustained over a prolonged period of time it can have a significant impact on health and well-being.  The identification and reduction of work related stress is a priority for the University bringing benefit to both the organisation and its employees by taking appropriate action to alleviate and prevent stress.

Prevention and legal responsibility

The University recognises its duty of care to its employees and its legal obligation to provide a safe working environment under the Terms of:

  • The Health and Safety at Work act (1974) providing a duty of care to ensure the health & safety of its employees so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at work Regulations (1999) requiring employers to undertake risk assessment, including stress, and to introduce proactive measures to control identified risks.    

The University is committed to promoting a healthy and supportive working environment and believes that its staff is one of its most important assets and that their health and well-being is essential for effective performance and the provision of high quality teaching, research and support services.

The University of St Andrews hereby undertakes:

  1. To take all necessary reasonable and practical steps to prevent occupational stress and, where this is not possible, to minimise its effects.
  2. To encourage a working environment in which staff and managers are pro-active in enhancing well-being and reducing occupational stress,  thereby optimising performance.
  3. To promote at all times a healthy and safe working environment which fosters a culture of trust, co-operation and mutual respect in which all staff treat one another with dignity and respect. 
  4. To ensure that all staff, at all levels, are aware of the steps that they can take to minimise the effects of stress on themselves and others and their personal responsibilities in this area.
  5. To provide a framework of policies, procedures and support mechanisms to ensure managers and staff can maintain effective performance at work and to minimise the risk of occupational stress.
  6. To foster a culture that provides reasonable and practical support where appropriate, for staff with stress-related or mental-health-related issues.
  7. Make freely available support services for stress-related issues impacting on work performance.
  8. To promote and encourage action to prevent occupational stress by providing training and developing managers to be effective in their roles.
  9. To have effective systems to identify, measure and monitor the effects of stress on individuals and the institution, and to establish effective triggers for action.  Where ‘hot spots’ are identified take action by initiating further investigation and ensuring action plans are implemented.
  10. To encourage a culture of promoting health and well-being and a healthy work-life balance.
  11. To ensure the effective management of change, through efficient and timely communication with relevant stakeholders. 
  12. To ensure that the Stress Policy and associated guidance notes are adhered to and effectively implemented with the necessary support, resources and mechanisms in place.


Responsibility for the effective management of stress and achieving the management standards rests with all levels of the organisation.

Organisational Responsibilities :

The University is committed to dealing with any identified causes of occupational stress and to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that staff work in a positive, safe and supportive working environment by seeking to:  

  • Promote and provide training in sound management practice and positive management behaviours to all line managers and supervisors of staff;
  • Develop the leadership capability and individual leadership competencies of senior and middle management;
  • Provide a framework of employment, health and safety polices and procedures to support managers and staff in maintaining effective work performance and to minimise the risk of occupational stress;
  • Develop stress management training for all appropriate managers and continuing to deliver and develop stress awareness training for all staff;
  • Identify specific occupational stressors and carry out risk assessments to eliminate or control the risks from stress where appropriate;
  • Promote partnerships between management, individuals and the recognised trade unions, with the aim of eliminating or minimising sources of stress;
  • Establish arrangements and procedures for the early identification of and dealing with cases of stress;
  • Provide and develop appropriate employee support services;
  • To address root causes of Occupational Stress at an organisational level through adopting effective procedures where identified.

Heads of Schools and Units and Line Managers Responsibilities:

Heads of Schools and Units are accountable to the Principal’s Office for implementing the University Stress Policy in their Schools and Units.

Heads of Schools/Units should actively involve all line managers/supervisors in the implementation of this policy and are also responsible for ensuring that reasonably practicable steps are taken to minimise the potential for exacerbating risks arising in relation to occupational stress by;

  • Ensuring effective and clear communication at all times especially where there is organisational or procedural change;
  • Ensuring jobs are properly designed, with realistic workloads and demands;
  • Ensuring clear lines of communication and reporting structures, providing employees with clear definitions of demands and responsibilities realistic to the post;
  • Ensuring adequate training is provided to support employees in fulfilling their role;
  • Fostering good employee relations through open and transparent communication and providing feedback on performance through appraisal and one-to-one meetings;
  • Creating an open and supportive working environment;
  • Monitoring working hours, rest periods and annual leave to ensure employees are taking appropriate breaks;
  • Early intervention and resolution of interpersonal/group conflict;
  • To ensure that bullying and harassment is not tolerated and that inappropriate behaviour is dealt with in line with the Dignity and Respect at Work Policy;
  • To be aware of changes to employee behaviours which may signify signs of stress and proactively explore these.
  • A checklist which can be used as a guide to assist managers in assessing stressors within the ‘Management Standards’ definitions can be found in the Managers Guide to Stress Appendix 1.
  • Whilst risk assessment is a core responsibility of all line managers, Heads of Schools and Units are responsible for ensuring that such assessments are carried out and acted upon where appropriate.

Environmental Health and Safety / Occupational Health Service Responsibilities

The Occupational Health Service will provide a confidential advisory service and will be pro-active in assisting the University to manage occupational stress issues through;

  • Providing specialist advice and assisting with the development and delivery of stress awareness training;
  • Providing support and advice to managers in implementing stress risk assessments;
  • Supporting individuals who have been off sick with stress and advise them and their managers on how to manage a return to work;
  • Integrating stress as part of wider Health & Safety monitoring.

Human Resources Responsibilities

Human Resources will provide advice and guidance and ensure that a framework of supporting policies and procedures are in place to assist employees and managers to promote a safe and supportive working environment by;

  • Providing guidance to employees and managers on stress policies and procedures;
  • Monitoring stress-related absences and ensuring the prompt referral to the Occupational Health Service;
  • Assisting with the development and delivery of stress awareness and stress management training;
  • Providing continuing support to managers and employees in a changing environment and advising on appropriate action to ensure that occupational stressors are eliminated or controlled; 
  • Developing and reviewing supporting policies and procedures to enhance work performance and organisational effectiveness and fostering a pro-active approach to assisting the organisation to manage stress;
  • The provision of courses by Staff Development to support staff with work- related problems. For example, conflict resolution, supervising staff etc;
  • Providing a framework for developing the skills and competencies of leaders and managers;
  • Consulting with relevant parties e.g Trade Unions, Occupational Health, Heads of Schools/Units on stress levels and the management thereof;
  • Monitoring statistical data on absence, staff turnover, employee relations issues and feedback questionnaires to ensure further exploration or action is undertaken where appropriate;
  • Reviewing and monitoring staff survey results, to identify and address any ‘hot-spots’/ area of concern;
  • Ensuring further investigation or targeted stress audits are conducted in ‘hot-spot’ areas;
  • Assist schools with drawing up action plans of improvement where ‘hot-spots’ have been identified.  

Employee responsibilities

It is vital that staff play an active role in contributing to their own health and well-being and management of stress to enable them to carry out their role effectively and to minimise the risk of work related stress. This can be assisted by;

  • Ensuring good communication with colleagues and line managers, and by fostering good working relationships;
  • Supporting colleagues by sharing information and knowledge and by working cohesively as a team;
  • Engaging in discussions about their performance and acting on feedback in a positive manner;
  • Being aware of the signs of stress and raising concerns with their manager or  with Human Resource or Occupational Health at an early stage in order to seek constructive solutions;
  • Making use of the training and support mechanisms provided;
  • Showing dignity and respect for others within the workplace at all times, and ensuring bullying and harassment in the workplace is not tolerated by challenging bullying behaviour in colleagues initially informally, in line with the Dignity and Respect at Work Policy, or reporting continued inappropriate behaviours to your line manager or HR.

It is hoped that a proactive approach by all will mitigate the occurrence of potentially harmful levels of stress.   However where an employees feels under undue pressure resulting in symptoms of stress, they should inform their line manager, Human Resources or Occupational Health as soon as possible.

The Principal’s Office

Members of the Principal’s Office have individual and collective responsibilities to lead by example and where necessary minimise and monitor, the effects of their decisions on health and safety, including occupational stress.

The accountability to Court for implementing this Policy (as with all parts of the Health & Safety Policy) lies with the Principal. Whilst much of the responsibility for implementation will, if necessity, be delegated via line management, the primary responsibility for ensuring delivery lies with the Office of the Principal. In discharging this responsibility, the Principal’s Office will monitor management information relating to stress and will establish such management mechanisms or groups as is necessary to ensure that such information is gathered and considered.

The University Audit & Risk Committee

The University Audit & Risk Committee will, via the Health & Safety Assurance Group, keep an overview of the effectiveness of this policy and other measures which have been implemented to eliminate or reduce stress and promote workplace health and safety.  The Committee will approve reviews of this policy on a regular basis. 

Other employment procedures

The University has a number of other employment procedures which assist with minimising the risks of stress and promoting a safe and supportive working environment, such as:

It should be noted that on occasions managers may have to manage performance, capability or invoke disciplinary procedures which in themselves can be a stressful situation for those involved.  However, this should not prevent managers moving forward with a legitimate employment issue in line with the above noted procedures. If during a performance related, capability or disciplinary process an allegation of occupational stress is made, the matter will be referred to Occupational Health and explored accordingly in line with the procedure in hand.  However, nothing in this policy should considerably delay or prevent the operation of other relevant policies which may need to be invoked.  In such situations line managers should seek the support of Human Resources on how to mange the situation and each case will be managed relevant to the issues raised.

All members of staff are encouraged to contact Human Resources or the Occupational Health Service for confidential information and advice on any stress-related matter.


 Appendix 1 - HSE Management Standards 

March 2010

Human Resources