In 2013, one in eight GPs sought help from pastoral or wellbeing services due to the effects of stress. This stress can affect the wider practice team which causes obvious issues for GP partners and practice managers.
Stress in the workplace can also increase the risk of workplace claim. For example, in a recent case an employee sued B&Q for psychiatric illness caused by occupational stress. Clearly, stress in the workplace is a major risk for GP practices as it also has serious ramifications for employee health and could ultimately affect patient safety.
Here are my four top tips for reducing workplace stress and, subsequently, the risk of stress-related employment claims:
1. Become stress aware
While all GPs in the current climate are aware of the stresses of the job, you should show that you are aware of the stresses among your staff as well. Partners and practice managers may wish to consider stress awareness training courses or online resources for both you and your staff, for example from Mind or CIPD. Being able to demonstrate you’re ‘stress aware’ will also strengthen your ability to defend stress-related employment claims.
2. Help employees recognise and report stress
Just as practices take steps to minimise the risk of physical injury to employees, they should also look to reduce the prospect of psychological injury. Creating an environment where GPs feel able to communicate concerns over excessive workloads should be a priority. You can also make sure you spot the signs of stress earlier by ensuring that you know your team’s working styles so you can spot if something changes (a sign of stress). Other indications of stress include aggressive behaviour, withdrawal and inconsistent work performance, for example uncharacteristic errors or memory lapses.
3. Conduct a risk assessment for stress
Conducting a thorough risk assessment for stress could ultimately lead to a healthier practice that’s also at a much smaller risk of employment claims. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website has a great section detailing its management standards for reducing work-related stress which offers a great starting point if you don’t already have a risk assessment in place. This involves highlighting the main risk factors for work-related stress (demands, control, support, relationships, role and change), identifying where you might have problems, consulting your employees, creating an action plan including specific goals and finally monitoring and evaluating any solutions you have.
4. Have a robust stress policy as part of your staff handbook
Ensure your staff handbook has a stress policy that clearly communicates what you will do to help employees manage stress and what’s expected from employees themselves when it comes to reporting stress. I would suggest that you seek professional advice before drafting a stress policy. Of course, you have to ensure that all employees have received and read the stress policy. This is what saved B&Q in the above case and it will be a major part of your defence if you find yourself on the wrong end of an employment claim for occupational stress.
David Edwards is an associate solicitor and head of the healthcare team at Harrison Drury Solicitors