Stress risk assessments: The why, what, when & how

By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development & Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits and Lorna Berry, Operations & Clinical Services Manager at Form Health

Ever heard of a stress risk assessment? If not, you’re not alone. Nearly half (47%) of HR attendees at our recent webinar said they’d never used a stress risk assessment and two-fifths (38%) had never even heard of them. What’s more, 9 in 10 (89%) reported that they wouldn’t feel confident knowing when and how to use one. Yet the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) makes it clear that employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by completing risk assessments and acting on them. This article is designed to give you everything you need to know in a nutshell.


Right now, stress, depression, or anxiety collectively represent the top reason for employee absence due to work-related ill health, accounting for 17.9 million working days lost in 2019/20. The HSE reports that this figure is statistically significantly higher than the previous period. Obviously, the pandemic is a contributory factor but it’s clearly not the cause; levels were already high pre-Covid-19.

The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work-related stress, depression, or anxiety were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility, and a lack of managerial support.

In short, it could pay to better understand stress risk assessments.


Put simply, it’s a document produced yourself to help you to evaluate, communicate and manage the risks in your business. The law does not expect you to remove all risks but to protect people by putting in place measures to control those risks as far as reasonably practicable.

All companies with five or more employees are required by law to write the risk assessment down. But the HSE stresses that this shouldn’t be about creating huge amounts of paperwork. Rather, it’s about identifying suitable measures to control the risks in your workplace.


Risk assessments should be reviewed regularly after initial implementation to ensure the risks of staff being harmed has not changed and that no further measures are needed.

According to the HSE, it should also be reviewed if any changes occur in your business that may increase the risk; for example, lone working and when there’s major business change. So, clearly in the midst of a pandemic would be a good time!

The HSE says that by talking to staff and monitoring incident rates and control measures, you will be able to judge whether the measures you’ve put in place are effective.

In addition to organisational stress risk assessment, an individual stress risk assessment should be conducted when an employee reports they are experiencing work-related stress, if an employee is absent this should form part of the return-to-work discussion. Completing an individual stress risk assessment encourages an open forum to discuss perceived issues with a view to solving or reducing stressors. This can provide all parties with an opportunity to discuss the support available and develop an individual action plan to reduce or mitigate stressors.


Although there isn’t a generic template that you can just add your company name to and adopt wholesale, the HSE website includes lots of guidance to help you out, including example stress risk assessment documents based on different sizes of company.

The examples are structured in line with the HSE’s Management Standards; namely, Demands, Control, Support, Relationships, Role, Change.

These Standards cover the six areas of work design that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health and wellbeing, lower productivity, and increased sickness absence. In other words, the primary sources of stress at work.

Against each stress risk factor, you then need to identify the following:

  • Who may be negatively impacted and how.
  • Ways you are already trying to control the risks.
  • What further action you should be taking to control risks.
  • Who needs to carry out these actions.
  • When any actions must be completed by.

This does not usually need to be a big exercise, says the HSE: ‘just note the main points about the significant risks and what you decided’.

If a risk assessment identifies areas that need improvement, you then have a duty to develop an action plan to include:

  • What the problem is.
  • How it was identified.
  • Proposed solutions and deadlines.
  • A date for a review.

Finally, as part of risk assessment, consult all your employees on health and safety. This basically involves listening and talking to them about the work they do, how risks are controlled, and the best ways of providing information and training.

Your employees are the best people to understand risks in the workplace. And involving them in making decisions shows them that you take their health and safety seriously.

Top tips for a preventative focus

  • Be proactive. Prevention and early intervention often mean there’s less likelihood of a negative impact on absence, presenteeism, and engagement. So, work with your existing employee benefit and wellbeing providers, especially group income protection (GIP) providers because of all the embedded services included, with a view to better understanding the wellbeing initiatives and interventions you might already have in place. Good mental health care pathways from providers shouldn’t just include interventions when employees are struggling, but also initiatives that aim to promote good mental health.
  • Consider HR policy & practice. Changes to an employee’s working arrangements, job reviews, and updates to policies can also be used to help reduce the pressure an employee may feel at work.
  • Nurture an open culture. Make sure managers are given the skills and confidence to have sensitive conversations with employees, if necessary. This is about asking open questions and signposting to expert help, not trying to diagnose. Again, speak to your providers. For example, Generali’s GIP product includes Mental Health Navigator from Morneau Shepell. This gives your people access to expert clinicians who can confirm diagnoses or provide second medical opinions and develop personalised action plans. This might involve signposting to the other services you provide, such as Employee Assistance Programmes or the insurer’s rehabilitation and claims specialist team.

Generali Employee Benefits has partnered with FlourishDX, a leading software platform, to assist organisations adopting the HSE’s guidelines for managing psychosocial risks, including the proposed new global standard ISO45003, which is expected to be published this summer. The platform empowers employers to identify psychological hazards using workplace design surveys and includes features to mitigate identified risks, including line manager training. Through the exclusive partnership, GEB clients can purchase the platform at discounted rates.

To receive a recording of the 15-min stress workshop for employees, which focuses more on the differences between pressure and stress, symptoms, causes, and solutions (i.e. not a stress risk assessment focus) hosted by Generali UK Employee Benefits, in partnership with Form Health, please email [email protected]