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Managing workplace stress

April is Stress Awareness Month which provides a timely reminder that stress and mental health are key concerns for many workplaces all year round.

A healthier workforce is a happier workforce, and this includes being mentally healthy too. A common precursor to poor mental health in the workplace is work-related stress. Stress is blamed for more lost working days than the common cold.

In the UK, over half (51%) of long-term sick leave is attributed to work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. Subsequently, burnout, mental ill-health, and work-related stress is costing the UK economy £28 billion annually.

This sobering fact underlines the urgency for both employers and employees to address and manage stress in the workplace.

What is stress?
Stress can result from sudden changes in circumstance just as much as from ongoing struggle. Stress is what happens when the pressure you are under is more than you think you can cope with.

In the long term, stress can lead to more serious physical effects and health concerns. Knowing the signs can be a useful early warning, allowing you to take action to reduce stress levels.

For Employers
Employers have a duty of care to look after the health and wellbeing of their people. It is therefore crucial to recognise and understand the common triggers of stress your workforce may be facing. This may include:

  • high workloads
  • tight deadlines
  • unrealistic expectations
  • unclear job responsibilities
  • interpersonal conflicts with colleagues or management
  • the absence of robust workplace health and wellbeing policies

If the situation that brought about the pressures does not change and an employee starts to feel symptoms of stress, a person’s physical or psychological behaviour may noticeably change too. This can result in:

  • decreased productivity
  • increased or unexplained absenteeism
  • poor performance at work
  • changes in appearance
  • not eating or changes to appetite
  • withdrawal from others
  • arguments with colleagues

As an employer, you should act immediately if you notice any of these concerns. This may involve you:

  • speaking empathetically with the employee
  • making adjustments in the workplace to alleviate the initial pressure
  • fostering a workplace of open communication
  • providing additional training for managers
  • referring the employee to a healthcare professional for support if required.

By investing in an employee wellbeing strategy and providing managers with adequate training to talk about workplace stress and mental health issues, you can help to reduce sickness absence and minimise the impact on the health of your people, as well as on the business.

For Employees
Don’t suffer in silence. Workplace stress is a common issue, and you won’t be the first person, or the last person to have felt this way. If you feel overwhelmed or are experiencing any of the stress-related symptoms above, share your struggles with a manager or a trusted colleague. Speaking out can be the first step towards finding suitable solutions to support you.

Beyond this, utilise the resources your business has made available to you including Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and any mental health support services. Further to this, it’s important to take care of and prioritise yourself, including actions like:

  • engaging in mindfulness and meditation
  • seeking out social support
  • taking time to do the things you enjoy
  • making lifestyle improvements through a balanced diet, regular exercise, and prioritising quality sleep

All of these are known to help in reducing your stress levels, giving you the means to look forward with more confidence.

So, with Stress Awareness Month in mind, let’s remember that mental health is a cornerstone of our overall wellbeing. Stress does not need to get the better of us. With early identification and practical steps, you can tackle and reduce work-related stress before it develops into more problematic health concerns. Your mental health matters, and together, we can pave the way to a more mentally healthy, fulfilling work life.

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