Manage stress – invest in your managers

A recent survey by Towers Watson1 found that when it came to stress management, 88% of employers provided an employee assistance programme (EAP), but only 45% provided training for managers. Surely, organisations would have fewer cases of work-related stress if the investment was the other way around?

EAPs, which combine counselling services and advice, are a valuable tool for helping staff deal with problems in their work or home life, but they were never intended to be a primary method for stress management. Used well they support employees who are experiencing difficulties, and they provide data to the organisation to help it identify when, why and where work-related stress is occurring. However, with typical utilisation rates at just 4-8%2, they don’t provide a complete picture about the stress in an organisation, nor do they fulfil the employers’ duty of care. For that, employers need to take a proactive approach to identifying the risks of work-related stress and to reducing or eliminating the factors that cause them.

By all means provide counselling via the EAP to employees so they can begin to cope better with the main stressors3 such as workload, lack of managerial support, changes at work, and interpersonal conflict. But don’t forget that many of these factors could be better tackled at source by ensuring managers are capable of managing – and for that perhaps employers should also be investing in manager training and coaching, and building supportive cultures that foster productivity and engagement instead of stress.

To find out how to achieve better managers, less stress, and how to better manage your EAP email gill@unisonmedia.co.uk


1Towers Watson’s “Health, wellbeing and productivity” survey findings 2012/13 indicated that whereas less than half of employers provided training for managers, 88% of them promoted their EAP. Accessed 30 May 2013 from: http://www.towerswatson.com/en/Insights/IC-Types/Survey-Research-Results/2013/05/Health-wellbeing-and-productivity-survey-2012-2013-Infographic?goback=%2Egde_2061371_member_243823671

2The Institute for Employment Studies reported these utilisation rates. Newton, L., Hayday, S., & Barkworth, R. (2005). Employee Assistance Programmes. Brighton, UK. IES. Accessed 30 May 2013 from: http://www.employment-studies.co.uk/pdflibrary/mp45.pdf . We are not aware of any more up-to-date independent research on EAP usage.

3Causes of stress by self-report and as reported by GPs in GB 2011/12 published by the Health & Safety Executive. Stress and Psychological Disorders V2 04/13. UK. HSE. Accessed 30 May 2013 from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/stress.pdf


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