Blog: managing stress and mental health is about asking and listening

By Jen Webster, Chartered Psychologist and registered Occupational Psychologist at HSE


Jen Webster, Chartered Psychologist and registered Occupational Psychologist at HSE

Many years ago, I worked for Jobcentre Plus, providing an occupational psychology service across Staffordshire for Jobcentre managers, specialist advisers and clients with a serious disability or acquired health condition.

The work varied, so one day I might be delivering mental health awareness training, and the next discussing with an employer how best to retain an employee with an acquired brain injury. Many of the people I helped were either disabled after a life changing accident at work or because the demands of their work had a serious impact on their mental health.

At the time, I didn’t make the connection between what had happened to them with poor health and safety practices. I just knew how difficult it was for people to pick up their lives when work had failed them. It was only when in 2008 I joined what is now HSE’s Science Division that I began to connect the dots and realised that I had witnessed the consequences of the types of issues that HSE tries to prevent.

Here I am, 14 years later, still working in HSE’s Risk and Human Factors Team. I often carry out qualitative research for and I work a lot with external organisations to improve their safety culture and other working practices. My safety culture video is available to watch on HSE’s YouTube channel.

Another aspect of my work is delivering stress training, to build the confidence and competence of managers to manage work stress, and I’ve recently provided technical input to NEBOSH for their new stress and mental health qualification.

My academic background has given me a superb grounding on the psychological theories and models about how individuals, teams and organisations function, but I like to think having experienced what happens to people when organisations get it wrong adds a different ‘real life’ dimension to my work.

Someone asked me recently what I thought I’d learned from over 40 years of working with people and organisations – and I said the importance of communication. It’s not always about telling. It’s about asking and listening, especially listening because none of us know what we don’t know, and it’s also about sharing what we learn.

Many of the organisations I encounter rarely do an organisational-level stress risk assessment. Most people I meet think they have to be an expert to have conversations about stress and mental health – you don’t. Often it’s simply a lack of confidence, which is why the materials on HSE’s stress webpages, the Talking Toolkits and the Working Minds site can be a really useful vehicle for us to have these conversations.   If you can help someone to feel comfortable to listen and ask: “What?”, “How?”, “Why?” and use the tools and guidance on our website, we can make a huge difference. Even just for that one person.

More about Jen…

Jennifer Webster is a Registered Occupational Psychologist working in our Risk and Human Factors Team based at The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Science and Research Centre in Buxton. In the colleague blog below, Jen shares an insight into her career and the work she does with external organisations to improve their safety culture and other working practices, including through delivering stress training.