Under Pressure: Managing work related stress – Part 1

StressSome people seem to thrive on it; others go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it. Love it or loathe it, one thing for certain is that in the modern workplace, stress is an unavoidable fact of life. However, stress itself is not an illness; we all need a certain level of stress to operate. Nevertheless, excessive and prolonged stress can lead to serious mental and physical illness.

One-in-four people in the UK are estimated to experience a mental health problem at some point in their life, and poor mental health in the workplace is calculated by the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology to cost the UK economy £26 billion pounds each year. With many businesses already struggling in the current economic climate, reducing sickness absence is a major priority for most organisations.

In this brief guide, we look at the causes of workplace stress and consider various techniques to help you reduce stress at work.

What is work related stress?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work related stress in the following way:

“The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.”

In broader terms, work related stress can be considered as an inability to cope with the perceived demands placed on them at work. While most of us have experienced pressure at work due to tight deadlines etc, work-related stress arises when we feel we can no longer meet these demands.

If left unresolved, this stress can sometimes develop into a more serious mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, or make worse an existing mental health problem.

Symptoms of stress at work

The symptoms of stress can be similar to some common mental health problems, for example, loss of appetite, fatigue and tearfulness. However, while these symptoms might be easy to spot, the HSE website explains that many of the symptoms may only be perceived by the person experiencing the symptoms. These may include:

Emotional symptoms

  • Negative or depressive feeling
  • Disappointment with yourself
  • Increased emotional reactions – more tearful or sensitive or aggressive
  • Loneliness
  • Loss of motivation, commitment and confidence
  • Mood swings

Mental Symptoms

  • Confusion, indecision
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor memory

Changes from your normal behaviour

  • Changes in eating habits
  • Increased smoking, drinking or drug taking ‘to cope’
  • Mood swings affecting your behaviour
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Twitchy, nervous behaviour
  • Changes in attendance such as arriving later or taking more time off
  • Increase in errors and accidents

What causes stress at work?Work related stress occupational stress and anxiety

Stress at work can be caused by a variety of reasons, and is often a result of a number of individual factors. However, the HSE has identified six management standards that can lead to work related stress if they are not managed properly:

  • Demands: Employees indicate that they are able to cope with the demands of their jobs.
  • Control: Employees indicate that they are able to have a say about the way they do their work.
  • Support: Employees indicate that they receive adequate information and support from their colleagues and superiors.
  • Relationships: Employees indicate that they are not subjected to unacceptable behaviours, e.g. threats and abuse from customers or bullying at work by colleagues.
  • Role: Employees indicate that they understand their role and responsibilities.
  • Change:Employees indicate that the organisation engages them frequently when undergoing an organisational change.

These factors can interact with other causes of stress outside the workplace such as relationship or financial difficulties, coping with bereavement and so on.

Managing stress in the workplace

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees. They also have a legal obligation to conduct risk assessments, including for work related stress. When you take this into consideration along with the fact that work related stress is associated with poor health and well-being, lower productivity and increased sickness absence, then it is obviously in the interests of everyone to tackle work related stress at its roots before it develops into something far worse.

‘Workplace stress is one of the biggest causes of employee absence – and also

one of the more difficult issues to manage. The Management Standards will

help employers identify and manage stress at work by providing a framework to

pinpoint particular causes of stress, as well as achievable solutions.’

Chartered Institute of Professional Development

‘Workplace stress is one of the biggest causes of employee absence – and also

Preventing harmful stress at work is all about good management rather than just helping sufferers to cope by offering them counselling and support. By using HSE’s stress management tools, organisations can help to pinpoint problems and decide what action to take to help mitigate the effects of stress in the workplace. For example:

  • A person can reduce the impact of high demands if they have high control over their work.
  • The impact of high demands and low control can be reduced by having high levels of support, either from colleagues or from you as a manager.
  • Relationships can be one of the biggest sources of stress, especially where there are problems like bullying and harassment.
  • Problems with role are probably the easier problems to solve.
  • Change does not have to be at an organisational level to have an impact on individuals or teams, for example, changes in team members, line managers or the type of work or technology used by the team can be just as stressful.

What to do next…

RoSPA’s Managing Stress & Violence Course is a comprehensive one-day in-company course that teaches delegates how to identify potential causes of stress and violence in the workplace and explores the various risk reduction methods that are available to minimise these problems.

For more information and tips on tackling work related stress, as well as news on all other aspects of occupational health and safety, please follow our Twitter feed @RoSPAWorkplace


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One thought on “Under Pressure: Managing work related stress – Part 1

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  1. My five tips to avoid stress

    1/ Get Some Exercise-Regular physical activity is one of the best ways to deal with stress. It releases endorphins and gives you a natural “high.”

    2/ Eat Healthy Foods-Avoid foods high in fat, sugar and sodium. If you are going to be out all day, make sure to pack healthy snacks and don’t skip meals because this will lower your energy levels.

    3/ Avoid Using Drugs or Alcohol to Deal with your Stress-These things will only mask the symptoms of stress and when you stop using them, the stress will return.

    4/ Get Enough Sleep-Most people need between 6-9 hours. Learn how to turn off.

    5/ Take a Break-Schedule several short breaks throughout the day to help minimize your stress. Get up and stretch, go for a walk, call a friend. When you return to your work, you’ll work more efficiently.

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