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Managing Stress In The Workplace

Stressful working environments can be a huge factor leading to high staff turnover and high levels of absenteeism. As a business owner, it may have become more difficult to recognise and manage stress with larger amounts of the workforce working from home.

What Is Stress?

HSE defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’.

Employees essentially feel stress when they can’t cope with pressures and other issues. It is encouraged that employers attempt to match demands to their teams’ skills and knowledge. Also, providing planning, training and support can reduce pressure and bring stress levels down.

There are a number of ways of identifying stress in your team, for example, employees may feel or suggest that they:

  • are not able to cope with the demands of their jobs
  • are unable to control the way they do their work
  • don’t receive enough information and support
  • are having trouble with relationships at work, or are being bullied
  • don’t fully understand their role and responsibilities
  • are not engaged when a business is undergoing change

Stress affects people differently – what stresses one person may not affect another, with factors such as skills and experience, age or disability potentially impacting whether an employee can cope.

There are six key areas of work design which can affect stress levels:

  • demands
  • control
  • support
  • relationships
  • role
  • change

Employers should assess the risks in these areas in order to manage stress in the workplace.

What Are The Signs Of Stress?

Although not an illness, an unmanageable level of stress can make you ill. Recognising the signs of stress can help employers to take steps to reduce and manage stress in their workplace.

If workers begin acting differently, it is often a sign they are stressed. Managers should look out for signs of stress in teams and workers and consider whether the stress could be associated with work pressure.

Stress in teams

  • arguments
  • higher staff turnover
  • more reports of stress
  • more sickness absence
  • decreased performance
  • more complaints and grievances
  • Employers must assess the risks of work-related stress in their workplace and take action to protect workers.

Stress in an employee

Changes in the way someone acts can be a sign of stress, for example, they may:

  • take more time off
  • arrive for work later
  • be more twitchy or nervous

Changes in the way someone thinks or feels can also be a sign of stress, for example:

  • mood swings
  • being withdrawn
  • loss of motivation, commitment, and confidence
  • increased emotional reactions – being more tearful, sensitive, or aggressive

Acting early can reduce the impact of pressure and make it easier to reduce or remove the causes. If managers are worried that a worker is showing some of these signs, they should encourage them to see their GP. These signs can be symptoms of other conditions. If there is something wrong at work, and this has caused the problem, managers should take action.

If you are feeling signs of stress at work, it is important to talk to someone, for example, your manager. If you talk to them as soon as possible, it will give them the chance to help and stop the situation from getting worse.

If the pressure is due to what your line manager is doing, find out what policies are in place to deal with this. If there aren’t any, you could talk to your:

  • trade union representative
  • worker representative
  • HR department
  • worker assistance programme/counselling service if your company has these or
  • GP

Many workers are unwilling to talk about stress at work, because of the stigma stress has. But stress is not a weakness and can happen to anyone.

What Your Employer Must Do

Your employer has a legal duty to assess the risks to your health from stress at work and share the results of any risk assessment with you. Your employer may follow HSE’s Management Standards approach, which helps identify and manage the main causes of stress at work.

Stress risk assessment

Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by performing a risk assessment and acting on it.

If you have fewer than five workers, this does not have to be recorded, however, it may be useful in order to. Once you have five or more workers, it is a legal requirement to write the risk assessment down.

Any paperwork you produce should help you communicate and manage the risks in your business. For most people, this does not need to be a big exercise, but rather noting the main points about the significant risks and what actions have been decided upon. There are a number of risk assessment tools and templates available from the HSE.

Help with stress caused by non-work issues

For help outside work, the following organisations have useful websites or helplines you can phone for advice in confidence.

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