Stress risk assessment: an approach for schools
In this guide we will explain how you can help to reduce the risk of stress to yourself and your colleagues, promote good mental health and create a happy and healthy school environment.
Guides / 5 mins read
We know how challenging working in education is right now.
Our research shows that leaders, teachers and education staff are at high risk of experiencing stress and burnout. Seventy-five per cent of staff are stressed, driven by a lack of trust from management, little support, and negative team cultures (Teacher Wellbeing Index 2022).
Getting an effective risk assessment in place can help to reduce stress levels benefitting your whole school community.
This guide explains stress risk assessments and how as a school leader you can help reduce the risk of stress to yourself and your colleagues, promote good mental health and create a happy and healthy school environment.
of all staff are stress (Teacher Wellbeing Index 2022)
Everyone responds to stress differently. Stress could impact your talented workforce significantly, with reduced quality of education delivery, long-term health implications, and staff leaving for good. But for others, a bit of pressure can actually be a rewarding and motivating factor.
While totally eradicating stress is an unreasonable target, there is a legal obligation to minimise risks of stress to staff. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a duty of care to protect employees from harm (stress). Assessing risks and acting on them is part of this duty of care.
By creating a an environment where the risk of stress is minimised, your school can be a healthy workplace where staff have space and opportunity to thrive. The most common methods used to address stress at work include:
- Raising awareness of mental health in the workplace
- Creating a culture that is free of stigma and discrimination
- Employee assistance programmes
- Flexible working options
- Training for stress management
- Involving occupational health specialists
- Implementing risk assessments
Your school’s approach to stress management should be proactive, where risks are dealt with before they impact staff health. Risk assessments are easy to implement and are excellent for identifying potential stressors and making practical plans to minimise harm.
Your role as a school leader
While carrying out a stress risk assessment is usually the responsibility of school leaders, you might consider delegating this task to others in your team, such as Head of Department, Phase Leader or DHT. For further support you can speak to your HR team or you can engage your unions.
The steps you need to take are straightforward and the following provides you with the basics of how to get started on using stress risk assessments in your school, the benefits of being proactive, and resources to help make the process as simple as possible.
With 84% of school leaders experiencing stress (Teacher Wellbeing Index 2022), remember looking after your mental health and wellbeing at work is also essential and should be explored as part of this process. So, take time to think of your own stressors and the changes needed to eliminate risks to you.
What is a stress risk assessment, and what does it involve?
A stress risk assessment's focus is on the outputs and ensuring that provisions are made to protect your staff from experiencing work-related stress.
Here are five steps you can take toward fulfilling an effective stress risk assessment for your school:
1. Identify possible causes of stress in the workplace: The HSE’s Management Standards identify six areas that can affect stress – demands, control, support, relationships, role, and change. For example, some staff may feel they:
- are unable to cope with the demands of their job
- are not supported by management
- are being bullied or harassed
- lack a sense of control over the way they work
- don’t understand their role and responsibilities
- are not fully engaged when there is an organisational change
Some of the causes of stress may be less obvious, and stress affects people differently. It’s a good idea to begin your assessment by letting your staff know that you will be undertaking a stress risk assessment and would like to gather evidence of specific causes of stress. You can do this by asking staff to complete a questionnaire. Remember to include every single person who works at your school in your risk assessment, not missing, for example, midday supervisors, office staff, supply staff or caretakers.
The National Education Union (NEU) provides a template stress survey, which you can access in the downloadable resource here. https://neu.org.uk/advice/stress-risk-assessment
Not only is getting information directly from staff useful, but it also demonstrates your commitment to their wellbeing and that you value their contribution.
2. Assess the level of risk: Once you have your findings on stressors, the next stage involves assessing the likelihood and severity of stress that could result from each identified cause. Deciding the below will help with assessing the level of risk:
- Who might be harmed and how?
- What measures do you already have in place to control the risks
- What further action will you need to take to control the risks
- Who will carry out putting measures in place?
- When will these measures be needed by?
3. Take action to reduce or remove stressors: If the assessment identifies areas needing improvement, you must make efforts to remove the risk, but if this is not possible, then you should reduce the risk as far as possible. Create meaningful and specific measures by discussing ideas for change with your staff. These changes might include:
- changes to working practices - limiting after school meetings
- provision of support – introducing a new onboarding process for supply staff
- training for staff – mental health first aid or stress management training
- job role and responsibility clarity – providing clear expectations and working together to develop personal goals
4. Make a record: All organisations employing more than five people must record their risk assessment findings. You can find templates and examples of risk assessments here.
5. Monitor and review: Reviewing stress risk assessments regularly will ensure that they are practical, relevant, and ultimately helping to support your staff’s mental health and wellbeing. You should also review them if they are no longer effective, there are changes in the workplace that could lead to new risks, or your staff have identified a new risk that hasn’t yet been assessed. If you need to make changes, follow the steps above and update your risk assessment record.
What are the benefits of a stress risk assessment?
Aside from supporting mental health and wellbeing, other benefits of a stress risk assessment include:
- Takes a preventative approach – by being proactive, you can help to put efforts in place before symptoms of work-related stress become more challenging.
- Increased productivity and performance – if your staff feel less stressed, they are likely to be more productive and engaged at work, creating a more effective and positive teaching environment for students.
- Reduced absenteeism – if your staff feel less stressed they are less likely to take time off work due to sickness.
- Compliance with legal requirements – as mentioned, employers have a legal duty to protect their employees' health and safety, including mental health.
Find out more
- You can read more about stress risk assessment for schools on the NEU website
- There is also some information on general employee obligations on the Health and Safety Executive website
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