Managing Stress at Work

04 January 2021

Workplace stress is on the rise.

79% of British employees said that they commonly experience work-related stress in a 2020 survey by Perkbox. This is 20% higher than just two years earlier.

Those stats aren’t surprising as many workers have recently:

  • Had to find new ways to complete their job from home.
  • Put themselves at risk working in key worker roles.
  • Taken on increased workloads due to furloughed colleagues.
  • Been unable to work altogether.

The fact that the increase isn’t surprising doesn’t mean that employers shouldn’t be concerned.

54% of working days lost were reported as being due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s Labour Force Survey for 2018/19.

That means that more than half of sick leave is now due to mental health conditions including stress at work in the UK.

So what can employers do to help with stress and anxiety at work?

Signs of stress at work

Many of your employees are likely already struggling with these issues. You need to know how to spot issues before you can begin to reduce stress at work.

The most common symptoms of workplace stress are:

  • Becoming more irritable or aggressive towards others.
  • Withdrawing from social interaction, or being uncharacteristically timid.
  • Being distracted or making more mistakes than usual.
  • Constantly worrying about things or doubting their work.

Workplace stress affects more than just a person’s mental health. It can also come with physical symptoms.

The physical symptoms of stress can include:

  • Headaches and migraines.
  • Stomach problems.
  • Raised blood pressure.
  • Changing sleep patterns.
  • Muscle pain.

Stress also lowers your immune system, making a person more likely to catch colds and generally feel rundown.

You won’t be able to spot every symptom in your employees. But, being aware of them will make you more able to question whether stress is a factor in your employees' unwellness.

Top ten causes of stress at work

The Perkbox survey revealed the top 10 causes of work-related stress to be:

  1. Work-related office politics.
  2. Lack of interdepartmental communications.
  3. The work performance of others e.g. junior members of the team.
  4. The employee’s own work performance.
  5. Customer/client satisfaction levels.
  6. Tensions with senior members of staff/managers.
  7. Long working hours.
  8. Poor company culture.
  9. The company’s performance as a whole.
  10. Other factors.

The HSE breaks this down into six main areas that can become causes of stress at work if not properly managed.

Those six main areas are:

  • Demands - Being unable to cope with the demands of the job.
  • Control - Being unable to decide how they complete a task.
  • Support - Feeling they don’t receive enough information or support.
  • Relationships - Having trouble with relationships with others at work.
  • Role - Not fully understanding their role or responsibilities.
  • Changes - Not feeling engaged when the business is going through changes.

You won’t know how employees are coping with stress at work without having a conversation with them. Stress affects people differently and so you may not know when an individual is struggling with something that others aren’t.

How to deal with stress at work

Dealing with stress at work can be difficult. There is no “one-size fits all” approach and you should tailor your response to the reason an individual is feeling stressed at work.

For example, if an employee is having trouble meeting the demands of the job, you should look at which tasks they are struggling with.

You could provide a refresher on using certain tools, or give them less work to ensure they can complete everything while they get used to it.

Despite that, there are some universal activities that you can suggest for how to cope with stress at work.

These activities include:

Ensuring employees get away from their workspace

A change of scenery can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health. It can be as simple as having a place for workers to eat their lunch without thinking about what they still have to do that day.

For office workers, this provides a chance to get away from their computers. This prevents headaches, which can make people feel more stressed.

Not only will this help to reduce stress at work, but it can increase productivity as workers are better refreshed from their break.

Provide regular feedback

Some of the key symptoms of work-related stress are feeling worried and having low self-esteem. An employee’s mood can deteriorate without regular contact with a manager. 

It's vital to provide positive feedback on employee activity. It helps people to see the value of their work and keep staff motivated.

Create an open dialogue

Staff who are feeling stressed can often feel isolated and unable to ask for support.

Ask your staff direct questions about how they’re feeling. Be open about your own difficulties where appropriate. This will comfort employees who feel less able to disclose these concerns.

Asking employees for input on how to reduce stress at work can also provide valuable insights into their own difficulties.

Ensure staff are aware of available support

You can provide external support such as an employee assistance programme (EAP). This service allows staff to talk with a trained professional completely anonymously.

Our EAP service also provides face-to-face counselling and online support.

If your employees already have access to support services, it’s worth providing regular reminders of what is available and how to access it. If an employee feels unable to disclose their struggles, they won’t want to ask you how they gain access to the provided EAP.

Produce a stress at work policy

Another way to encourage an open dialogue between employee and employer is by creating a specific stress at work policy.

A stress at work policy is a HR document that you can provide to employees that explains how the organisation is managing stress at work. The guidelines should also explain the process an employee will go through if they are feeling a lot of work-related stress.

Businesses have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees under the Health and Safety at Work ect. Act 1974. This protects staff who experience overwhelming or prolonged work-related stress. They can bring stress at work claims against you as a type of workplace accident.

Creating a detailed policy on how to manage stress at work will help your employees when they begin to feel overwhelmed. It can also protect you against large compensation claims.

Making an occupational health referral for work-related stress

Work-related stress can impact an employee’s ability to complete their job. If you're concerned about this, you can make a referral to an occupational health (OH) professional.

Medical records are private and employers can’t request access to these records. However, an OH professional can act as a filter between the employee and their medical records and the employer asking questions.

OH experts assess an employees current work-related stress from an occupational health standpoint. They then provide answers on the appropriate steps to take.

You will need the employee to agree before you can make a referral to OH.

Need help managing stress in your workplace?

We help companies create detailed HR and health & safety policies to keep your staff healthy and safe.

We also offer employee assistance programmes. These allow your employee to reach out for professional counselling services.

These services can prevent serious stress issues and prolonged periods of absence.

Get in touch with us today by calling 0800 028 2420.

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