Guide for employers and employees on managing stress in the workplace.
Published 05 June 2023
The current challenges and demands of working life can be difficult for both employers and employees, which is why understanding and tackling the stress it can cause can be good for business.
Work-related stress is a serious issue that demands attention given it can have a harmful impact on both individuals and organisations.
The most recent figures show the cost for UK employers of stress and poor mental health is reported to be up to £56 billion [1 cited 5.6.23]
Financial stress and concerns among employees are also said to cost businesses up to £6.2 billion in sick days and lack of productivity [2 cited 5.6.23]
A degree of stress is expected with most jobs because of challenges and pressure to meet expected deadlines or targets.
But it becomes a problem, and can be a huge problem, for employees when it is ongoing and has a detrimental impact on the ability of an individual to be able perform their duties.
Work-related stress refers to the physical, emotional, and psychological strain experienced by employees in the workplace. It can impact in different ways and affect individuals differently.
Common symptoms can be physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioural.
Excessive stress in the working environment can lead to a loss of job satisfaction, reduced performance, higher turnover rates, increased absenteeism and a greater risk of physical and mental health problems.
The Health and Safety Executive in its extensive guide on work-related stress and how to manage it, identifies six main areas that can trigger it if not managed properly. These are: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change [3 cited 5.6.23]
It is vital that employers identify and address work-related stress by implementing strategies to create a supportive and healthy workplace.
Creating such a working environment is not only good for productivity, but it helps to ensure an organisation adheres to the duty of care it has to all of it employees [4 cited 5.6.23]
That duty includes protecting staff from psychological harm as well as physical harm. Stress can be a serious psychological injury, which can develop into much more serious mental health conditions.
The National Education Union for teachers has published a guide for members that identifies the main causes of workplace stress and which details advice on how best to avoid it [5 cited 5.6.23]
The foreword in the guidance does state: ‘Stress and exhaustion are not only the products of excessive working hours but also having too little professional discretion in your workplace – with key decisions about the curriculum and teaching strategies taken out of your professional control.
‘Teachers in the UK work more intensively and for longer hours than any other profession. It is time to reclaim your professional lives.’
Many other professions are also significantly affected by stress associated to work.
According to the Workplace Health Report by Champion Health, 76 per cent of UK professionals are experiencing moderate to high levels of stress, and 33 per cent report that high levels of stress impact their productivity [6 cited 5.6.23]
The main causes of stress-related absence are heavy workloads (62 per cent) and poor management style (43 per cent) [7 cited 5.6.23]
So how should employers deal with stress in the workplace, which is essential for the well-being and productivity of employees?
Here are some practical suggestions for employers:
Create a welcoming workplace: Build a work environment where employees feel respected, recognised, and listened to. Support honest dialogue and help employees balance their work and personal lives.
Education for all staff: Implement initiatives to raise awareness about stress, its impact on mental health, and strategies to manage it effectively. Help managers to gain the skills to recognise signs of stress in employees and how to offer appropriate support.
Encourage Work-Life Balance: Help employees find a healthy balance between work and their personal life, which can be done by offering flexible working, remote working where possible and paid leave. Employees should be reminded how important it is to switch off after work in order to avoid burnout.
Provide support for stress management: Offer support services such as employee assistant programmes, which can help employees to deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health and well-being [8 cited 5.6.23]
Clearly define roles and responsibilities: Make sure employees know their role and exactly what is expected from them, as a lack of clarity about their responsibilities and what is expected can contribute to stress. Providing clear guidance and prioritising tasks to prevent employees from feeling overwhelmed will help to alleviate the stress of any role.
Encourage open communication: support employees to talk openly about any stress symptoms they may be suffering. Use frequent conversations, anonymous feedback, or an open-door policy to spot and tackle stress-related problems before they worsen.
Every workplace is different, so each will need to tailor any strategies to manage stress to suit its particular organisational culture.
And what can employees do themselves to avoid stress at work?
There are proactive steps any employee can take to help avoid and minimise stress in the workplace. Here are some strategies that can be helpful:
Create boundaries: Be clear on your working hours and try to stick to them and allow yourself time to switch off from work and relax and spend time doing things you enjoy. And whenever possible avoid checking emails or doing work-related tasks outside of your designated working hours.
Good time management: Being organised and able to prioritise and arrange your workload is important, as feeling you have too much to do and being overwhelmed will always increase stress. Managing your workload effectively can help to prevent stress. If you consistently feel swamped by your workload, discuss it with your manager. Explore potential solutions such as delegating tasks, adjusting deadlines, or redistributing responsibilities.
Be open about how you are feeling: Do not suffer in silence if you are struggling with the stress of work, talk to managers, colleagues, staff representatives or someone you feel comfortable with and can trust. Being able to speak about problems and accessing support to help you deal with them early can prevent stress from escalating. Take advantage of any support available.
Practice Stress Management Techniques: Different people deal with stress in different ways, so find or develop techniques or coping mechanisms that work for you. It can be anything from focusing on your breathing and breathing techniques, physical activity or simply taking breaks.
Be slightly selfish: Focus on yourself and self-care and what is best for you to help you avoid feeling stressed at work. Develop healthy habits that benefit you because taking care of your physical well-being can have a positive impact on your mental resilience and stress management.
Keep learning and improving your skills: Seek ways in which you can learn new and relevant things to help improve your skills. It can help you keep up with changes in your particular field, give a boost to your confidence and help you to enjoy what you do more, which ultimately will help to lower your stress levels.
Remember, stress is a natural part of life, and it may not always be possible to avoid it completely. However, by adopting these strategies, you can better manage and reduce stress levels in the workplace, leading to improved well-being and overall job satisfaction.
Both employers and employees share responsibility for managing stress in the workplace.
By creating a supportive environment and implementing effective strategies, employers and employees can work together to mitigate stress and foster a healthier work environment.