Tips to Reduce Stress in the Workplace

Stress is something that happens to all of us when we feel under pressure. In small doses, it can be beneficial and even motivating, helping you to stay focused, energetic and able to meet new challenges. However, when it becomes overwhelming, stress can have a hugely detrimental impact on both mental and physical wellbeing as well as job satisfaction.

Stress can often be overlooked when it comes to workplace health and safety, but it is the leading cause of work-related ill-health in the UK. The HSE reported that in 2019/20, work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health and 55% of all days lost due to work-related ill-health. In total, employers and the UK economy suffered an estimated cost of around £26 billion annually. Highlighting the wider impact that stress can have on a business, it is vital for employers to manage stress in the workplace in order to create a healthy and positive working environment.

Impacts of stress

The main impact of stress is on our mental health, with extreme cases causing depression, anxiety, headaches and even insomnia. Employees suffering from any of these symptoms may struggle to have a healthy work-life balance at one end of the scale leading to burnout; others, on the other hand, might have difficulty concentrating to complete their work which could cause low morale and self-esteem. In terms of the implications on a business, employers are likely to see an increase in sick days and high rates of staff turnover.

Stress not only impacts our mental health but our physical health too. Stress can cause physical changes in our bodies such as heartburn, high blood pressure and tense muscles. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of physical health. The by-products of stress can impact our immune systems, making it harder for us to fight off viruses and other conditions. The results of the physical impacts of stress can further lead to employees needing to take time away from work.

Factors leading to work-related stress

According to the HSE, there are six main areas that can lead to employees experiencing work-related stress:

Demands

The first stress-causing factor is demand, as employees may experience stress if they are unable to cope with the demands of the workplace. This involves issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment. The HSE advise that employees should be able to indicate whether they can cope with the demands of their job, and that systems should be in place locally to respond to any individual concerns.

To reduce the impact of demands, staff should be encouraged to make a to-do list and communicate with their line manager if their workload is overwhelming. Management should also be encouraged to set realistic and achievable demands for the agreed hours of work. Holding regular 1-1 or team meetings will further provide employees with an opportunity to discuss their workload and voice any concerns they may have.

Control

The next cause of stress is employees not feeling as though they have control over how they complete their work, including the environment they work in. The HSE recommends that employees are given reasonable control over the way their work is completed, and where possible, they have the flexibility to choose where they work. This may include working from home some days or having the option to move around the office. In addition, employees should be given control over their pace of work, where appropriate e.g. having a say in when they take their breaks.

Employees should feel empowered to take control of their own workload and encouraged to work smarter, not harder. It’s important to teach them how to prioritise tasks and focus on the jobs that will make a real difference to the team and the business as a whole. When new tasks arise, there should be clarification on the urgency and importance of the task to help understand how quickly it needs to be completed.

Support

Employees can begin to feel stressed if they feel that they don’t receive adequate information and support from their colleagues and superiors. This includes encouragement, sponsorship and resources that should be provided by line management and peers.

To prevent this, organisations should have measures and procedures in place to ensure employees are appropriately supported and have the resources required to do their job. This may include introducing a HR management system to provide access to documents and policies or holding regular support meetings. Offering constructive feedback will not only help to improve an individual’s skills but can further help employees to feel supported.

Employees should also be made aware of the support systems available. Some organisations have employee assistance programmes (EAPs) that offer free advice and counselling. Others have internal support systems such as mentoring or buddy systems.

Relationships

The next stress-causing factor is employees feeling as though they don’t have positive relationships at work.

The HSE states that employers should promote positive working environments to avoid conflict and should deal with any unacceptable behaviour in the workplace, such as bullying. Employees should be able to share if they feel they do not have good relationships with colleagues and support systems should be in place to deal with individual concerns.

Organisations can support positive relationships by rewarding positive behaviours at work, promoting a constructive and friendly working environment. Policies and procedures should also be in place to prevent and resolve unacceptable behaviour, including a method to report bullying or unfair treatment. Organisations can also encourage positive relationships by hosting social events such as Christmas parties or taking employees out for lunch. Having events outside of work will help employees to develop friendships and aid team working.

Employees should be encouraged to connect with others and build up a good support network of colleagues, friends, and family. This network will provide support and comfort as talking through things with another person can often help individuals to resolve their problems.

Role

Employees may experience stress if they do not fully understand their role or responsibilities within the organisation or feel that they have conflicting roles with other employees. The HSE encourages employees to fully understand the role they play in the organisation and the roles of those around them.

Employers should ensure that as far as possible, the different requirements it places upon employees are compatible. This includes checking that employees roles are not counterproductive or duplicating another person’s responsibilities. The organisation should also provide information to enable staff to understand their role and responsibilities, such as a detailed job description.

Clear communication systems should be established for employees to raise concerns or uncertainties they may have about their role. If a formal procedure is not in place, employees should be encouraged to discuss expectations with their manager and put strategies in place to meet them.

Change

The last stress-causing factor identified by the HSE refers to organisational change and how it is communicated throughout the organisation, regardless of its scale. Organisations should allow employees to feel that organisational change engages them and that they are regularly communicated with while changes are taking place.

Employers should provide staff with the appropriate information to understand the reasons for the proposed changes made, allowing for feedback on changes and providing an avenue for employees to voice any concerns. Employees should also be made aware of timetables for changes and should have access to relevant support or training to ensure they can still fulfil their role.

Tips to reduce workplace stress

The first step to feeling better is to identify the cause of your stress. Although it may not feel like it at times, there’s a solution to every problem. Failing to take control of the situation and remaining passive will only serve to make the problem worse. In fact, feeling a loss of control (as mentioned above) is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing.

No matter what you do for a living, or how stressful your job is, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your overall stress levels and regain a sense of control at work. Despite this, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, so you have to discover what works best for you.

Read our infographic: reduce stress in the workplace

How to reduce stress at work:

  • Establish boundaries
  • Organise some ‘me time’ (outside work)
  • Try practising mindfulness
  • Take short breaks throughout the day
  • Eat healthy and nutritious foods
  • Start exercising (or increase exercise)
  • Get enough sleep
  • Avoid unhealthy habits (e.g. alcohol or smoking) as a coping mechanism
  • Try to be positive/have a positive outlook
  • Be realistic

By law, employers must carry out a risk assessment which should include looking into stress and identifying possible causes. Once the potential for stress in the workplace has been recognised, appropriate measures and guidelines can be put in place to mitigate the risk.

If you are experiencing stress at work, it is important that you talk to a supervisor or a manager. If you do not communicate how you feel, then your employers may not realise that changes need to be made.

For further help and guidance on how to manage stress in the workplace, visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/help-employee.htm.