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Managing Stress in the Workplace

Updated: Feb 6, 2023



2nd November 2022 is Stress Awareness Day. Millions of people across the UK, and the world, experience stress which can impact their lives and their health. According to Rethink, in 2021 74% of people felt so stressed that they were unable to cope.


What is Stress?


According to Mind, Stress can be defined as how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. Stress could include pressure to get to a work deadline, pressure in our personal or work relationships or even the pressure we place on ourselves. In some situations stress can be good, it can help motivate us and help get the job done, but in others it can leave us feeling as though we can't cope and prolonged periods of stress can have a huge impact on how we're feeling and our physical health.


Is stress the same for everyone?


The short answer is no, everyone deals with stress differently and has different tolerance levels in terms of what they can cope with and what will make them feel overwhelmed.


How do I know if I have a problem with stress in my organisation?


Besides people telling you outright that they are stressed, you may also notice;

  • High levels of staff turnover

  • Increased sickness absence levels

  • A long hours culture

  • Employees not taking their holiday and seemingly struggling to be able to do so

  • low levels of productivity

What do I have to do legally?


According to the Health and Safety at Work Act, Employers have a legal duty to protect employees as much as they can from any health and safety concerns in the workplace. This includes looking to reduce stress in the workplace. Stress risk assessments are a great way to take stock of how things are within your organisation and look to proactively limit or get rid of stress factors within the workplace. If you have fewer than 5 employees you don't have to write anything down but in reality, it's probably useful to have something noted to refer to. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides free templates to help businesses with their obligation to create a stress risk assessment which you can see here https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/risk-assessment.htm


How do I spot if someone is stressed?


When someone is stressed you may notice emotional, physical or behavioural changes in them so it's key to look out for changes in someone's normal behaviour as that could indicate that they're stressed. Everyone will obviously have good and bad days but if you notice someone doesn't seem themselves make sure you speak to them to see how they're doing. Whilst not an exhaustive list, and we are definitely not doctors! The Stress Management Society provides an overview of the things you might notice when someone is stressed here https://www.stress.org.uk/how-it-affects-us/ the below gives a short overview;


Cognitive

  • Poor judgement

  • inability to concentrate

  • indecision

  • unable to finish tasks

  • self-doubt

Emotional

  • Depression

  • Changes in mood

  • Anxiety

  • Frustration

  • Feeling Overwhelmed

Physical

  • Aches and pains

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • High blood pressure

Behavioural

  • Isolating themselves from others

  • Struggling with sleep

  • Demotivated

What can businesses do to help reduce stress in the workplace?


  • Lead by example this one is really key, leaders in your organisation should role model practices that showcase the importance of well-being and show sensitivity and support when someone is feeling stressed

  • Communicate with your employees, employees can become easily stressed out if they don't know or understand what's going on within an organisation

  • As above make sure you've carried out a stress risk assessment

  • Be mindful of workloads, if people seem overloaded, do something about it

  • Keep an eye on trends if you see things like sickness absence increasing, holiday levels reducing or employees complaining of stress and burnout do something about it!

  • Provide well-being support to your employees in the form of something like an employee assistance programme (EAP), access to mindfulness tools like Headspace free of charge to your employees and things that promote wellness like discounted gym memberships


What should businesses do if someone becomes unwell with stress?


If someone is unwell, regardless of the cause, we'd always recommend that you treat them fairly and in accordance with your sickness absence policy.


Bear in mind that when someone is stressed it's not the same as having something like a broken leg or a cold. We often speak to employers who have employees off sick with stress but have seen them out shopping or out for a walk and are frustrated that they're paying for someone to be off sick but the individual is out and about. Bear in mind that exercise and getting out might actually be things that help your employee feel better so it won't be unusual for them to perhaps be more mobile than someone with an illness that has more visible symptoms.


Are there any free resources that can help?


There are lots of free resources that can help individuals and businesses, you can see a handful of these below;



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Disclaimer

  • All information within the post is provided for guidance only, always seek your own legal advice

  • The information with this post was correct at the time of publishing, October 2022 but maybe subject to change


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