Preventing work related stress
The prevalence of heavy workloads and tight deadlines in the workplace can cause many of us to feel under pressure in the workplace. And when the level of pressure we face becomes too much, we can quickly start to experience stress.
Stress is our body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat, and when this occurs, the body’s automatic defence system kicks in. This is called the “fight or flight” reaction, otherwise known as the stress response.
The stress response is not all bad; it can help to succeed at challenges, increase concentration or encourage study for an exam. But when stress levels surpass a certain point, the stress response stops being helpful and can often overwhelm us. This can have a negative impact on health, mood, productivity, relationships, and overall quality of life.
According to most recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive, there were 875,000 workers who suffered from work related stress, depression, and anxiety between 2022 and 2023. And an estimated 35.2 million working days were lost in 2022/23 due to self-reported work-related ill health or injury.
In this article, we will take a closer look at:
What does the law say?
Under the UK Health and Safety legislation and common law, employers have a duty to take care of employees health, safety, and wellbeing. This includes a responsibility to protect employees from stress at work, by conducting a risk assessment on work related stress and acting on it.
To help with this, the Health and Safety Executive provides a risk assessment template along with example risk assessments on work related stress. These useful resources can be found here.
Causes of work related stress
People can become stressed in the workplace for a variety of reasons, but some typical causes for work related stress include:
- long hours
- heavy workload
- change to duties
- job insecurity
- lack of proper resources, equipment, and training
Signs of work related stress
Some common signs of work related stress might include:
- muscular tension
- sleeping difficulties
- a drop in work performance
Benefits of preventing work related stress
Entire organisations can benefit from a workplace culture that prioritises its employees wellbeing. According to the Better Health Channel, an organisation that provides health and medical information to improve health and wellbeing, preventing work related stress can increase productivity and work engagement whilst reducing sick leave usage, absences, staff turnover and costs to employers.
Individuals can also benefit from preventing work related stress, as they can experience greater job satisfaction, better sleep, and a better quality of life.
Self help tips to reduce work related stress
To cope with stress in the workplace, there are various methods that can be implemented to manage and reduce stress levels. Let’s look at some general ideas to try to help manage stress.
- Learn about what you find stressful and what you find helpful
Try taking some time out to pinpoint exactly what triggers your feelings of stress, and what has worked in the past to reduce stress levels. By thinking of some examples, a wellness action plan can be created, which maps out exactly what makes you feel stressed and steps you can take to manage this feeling when it arises in future. Once this is understood, you can talk to your employer who may be able to implement some changes to help.
For example, if a heavy workload is pinpointed as a key cause of stress at work, your wellness action plan may include things like letting your manager know your workload is unmanageable, taking time out to prioritise tasks, rewarding yourself for your achievements and being realistic about what you can achieve in one workday.
- Learn new coping techniques
Everybody experiences stress differently, which means the coping techniques you use to manage work related stress will be unique to you. Various techniques could be tried such as physical activity, breathing exercises, picking up hobbies outside of work or avoiding stimulants like caffeine. Take note of how you feel during and after these activities to learn which techniques make you feel the best.
- Look after your physical health
Physical activity increases your overall health and sense of wellbeing, but exercise also has some direct benefits in preventing stress. For example, exercise releases endorphins, which are chemicals produced in your brain to relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve mood. They are released during physical activities such as playing tennis, jogging, or even just taking a walk.
Exercise can also improve your self-confidence, help you relax and lower the symptoms of anxiety. It can also improve your sleep, which is often disturbed by stress.
How employers can help in preventing work related stress
If you own or manage a business, there are various techniques to help prevent stress in the workplace.
- De-stigmatise work related stress by openly recognising it as a problem
This could be discussing issues and grievances with employees, taking appropriate reactions when possible and devising stress management plans with employees. Training aimed at building personal resilience could be conducted, such as coping techniques and mindfulness.
Employee assistance programmes could also be introduced, which can provide your team with support and practical advice on issues that might be impacting their wellbeing.
- Carry out a stress risk assessment
By carrying out a stress risk assessment, areas which may cause work related stress can be identified and resources to help reduce or prevent stress can begin to be allocated. Spotting and addressing causes of stress early on can prevent it from escalating, which can help to create a work culture where employee wellbeing is a priority.
For example, if the demand on employees is identified to be too much and effectively a hazard, action steps to minimise that hazard could be to better plan employee workloads to minimise excessive demands, or look to take on extra staff to support your business during busy times of year.
- Ensure line managers are supported in preventing employee stress
While many employers may expect line managers to look after their employees’ health and wellbeing, employers don’t always provide the necessary training for this. According to a 2022 health and wellbeing at work survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, only 56% of organisations train managers in dealing with work related stress.
Ensuring that line managers are properly trained and given the resources needed, to help prevent work related stress, is vital in promoting the wellbeing of employees.
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