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Relieving Stress at Work

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What You Need to Know 

  1. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that around half a million UK workers a year suffer from stress to some degree. It’s also estimated that some 45 million work days are lost each year as a result of stress
  2. Stress can be caused by many things. One major cause is working long hours on a regular basis or struggling with the responsibilities of a role
  3. Job security and poor management are increasingly also leading causes of stress in the workplace, as are poor relations with colleagues and bullying
  4. Outside factors can also cause workers to be stressed on the job. An unhealthy lifestyle or having to cope with major events outside of work hours can also impact on a person’s professional life
  5. Symptoms of work-related stress include struggling to concentre, becoming withdrawn or moody and taking lots of time off work
  6. Employers are legally obliged to ensure the mental wellbeing of their staff, so don’t be afraid to speak out if you feel a job is too demanding or your hours are too long
  7. In many cases, stressed workers are simply unhappy workers and, if this is the case, you may be better off looking for a job you will actually enjoy doing 

Stress in the Workplace

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that around half a million UK workers a year suffer from stress to some degree. What’s more, stress and related psychological problems like anxiety and depression now account for one in five visits made to a GP, with the problem getting worse every year.

As well as affecting workers themselves, stress is also a major burden on employers. Stressed workers are unproductive, inefficient and, in many cases, need to take time off. This means stress is an economic problem as well as a psychological one.

Before you are able to deal with stress at work, you need to have a good understanding of what causes stress, how to identify the tell-tale signs of the problem and how to guard against it. Here’s all you need to know about dealing with stress at work:

What Are the Causes of Stress?

According to the NHS, stress can be summed up as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures and demands placed on them”. Unsurprisingly, then, workplace stress is very common.

Some people do, of course, thrive under pressure, and love being kept busy. But everyone has their limits, and what causes stress in one person can be easily dealt with by another. However, here are the most common causes of work-related stress, and many workers will in fact suffer from a combination of these:

  • Long hours: Having to work long hours on a regular basis is one of the main causes of workplace stress. Not only can it make it hard to unwind when you’re at home, working well beyond your scheduled hours can make you more likely to make silly mistakes, thereby putting yourself under extra pressure. Generally speaking, if you’re working too much, it’s down to poor management, either by yourself or your superior.
  • Heightened responsibilities: Along with working too many hours, having too much to do is another major cause of workplace stress. All workers should have a good understanding of their roles and responsibilities and should be able to cope with the demands of their job and should not be expected to take on more without being adequately trained and properly compensated.
  • Unhealthy working environments: Poor working environments are behind many instances of work-related stress. A workplace could be dirty or even dangerous, putting employees at risk and damaging morale.  
  • Irresponsible management: Poor management is one other big cause of stress in the workplace. Uncaring or even just incompetent bosses can increase the stress levels of those working below them, and poor financial management of an organisation can also leave employees feeling anxious and under extra pressure. Indeed, worries over job security has become one of the biggest causes of stress in the past few years, and understandably so.
  • General unhappiness at work: Alongside all the above, many workers are simply unhappy in their jobs. Feeling professionally unfulfilled, undervalued or stuck in a rut can be very stressful indeed. Poor communication with other colleagues, and, even worse, poor working relations or bullying in the workplace can make just the act of going into work a highly stressful experience.  

Aside from all these work-related causes, many people are often stressed in their jobs due to worries in their personal lives. Workers who once enjoyed their jobs could find themselves unhappy or feeling under extra pressure if they are also dealing with a major life event like moving house, coping with bereavement or getting divorced at the same time.

Similarly, physical factors can play a part in how stressed you feel at work. For instance, if you smoke, are overweight or are drinking too much, you may be more susceptible to stress than a colleague who follows a healthier lifestyle. Be sure to take this into account as altering your lifestyle can often be the most effective way of feeling under less pressure in your job.

Spotting the Signs of Stress

Just as the causes of stress can vary from person to person, so can the way in which they deal the problem. In many cases, it may not be obvious that an employee is struggling to cope, and you may not even realise that you are suffering from stress yourself.

That said, there are often some clear signs that a worker is stressed. Responsible employers should always be on the lookout for these, plus you should also occasionally take the time to consider whether or not you are coping at work. Generally speaking, then, the most common signs of work-related stress are:

  • Depression or negativity: One clear sign of stress is a general negative or depressive feeling, usually obvious to colleague and managers. Stressed workers may also be disappointed with themselves and their professional performance and may exhibit mood swings on the job. In many cases, workers struggling with stress also become more emotional than usual, for example, being more sensitive to feedback or even aggressive in their dealings with colleagues.
  • Tiredness: Being stressed at work can affect an individual’s sleeping patterns. In most cases, they will struggle to get enough sleep and so will be tired on the job. This can affect their concentration levels and also contribute to mood swings.
  • Lack of interest: Stressed workers often lose interest in their jobs and their colleagues. They can lose their motivation and any sense of confidence. Plus, in many cases, those under the most stress may become withdrawn and lonely in the workplace. 
  • Poor attendance: At worst, workers suffering from stress may start taking lots of time of work, or at the very least be unpunctual. Even if they are physically present at work, they may take longer breaks and refuse to engage in extra activities.

Again, these are just some of the symptoms of work-related stress. A stressed-out worker may exhibit all or none of these, or they may exhibit them but be suffering from a different psychological issue. If you are concerned about yourself, seek help from you GP. If, however, you are concerned about a colleague, gently try and persuade them to see their own GP for help. 

Dealing with Stress

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for effectively dealing with stress in the workplace and, in many cases, it’s not a straightforward issue, but often a complex mix of different factors.

  • Speak out: In far too many cases, stressed workers suffer in silence, something that makes their situation even worse. If you do feel stressed, you need to speak out. After all, your employer has a legal obligation to ensure your mental and physical wellbeing. So, if you feel you are working too many hours, tell your manager. Similarly, if you feel the workload is too complicated or if you aren’t sure of your responsibilities, say so. If your manager isn’t helpful, consider going to the HR department or even to their boss, and if you still feel you are being overworked or put under undue pressure, you may want to seek advice from a union or a tribunal. 
  • Seek help: There are a number of places you can turn to help you deal with workplace stress. For starters, speak with your colleagues as they may have a simple solution to easing the pressure you are under such as re-evaluating your role and responsibilities. Alternatively, the HSE support both individuals and employers, while your GP will also be able to help you deal with the symptoms of stress, but do remember doctors are not experts in employment law.
  • Look at your lifestyle: Again, making simple lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on your working life. Cutting down on alcohol or following a healthier diet, for example, can make you better able to cope with tough working days, while exercising more should help ease the pressure at least a little bit. Even little things like walking some of the way to work or making a conscious effort to talk more to colleagues or escape your desk for an hour a day can make a big difference.
  • Consider your future: Of course, some jobs are more stressful than others and no amount of support or lifestyle adjustment will change that. If you genuinely can’t see how you can cope in a job, consider your options. Look for jobs where you know you will be able to cope with the demands placed on you or where you know you will only work fixed hours. Even if it means taking a pay cut, if your life is being ruined by stress, sometimes the only thing to do is leave a job and move on.   

Guarding Against Stress in the Future

As well as dealing with stress as it affects you, you should also try and guard yourself against getting stressed at any point in the future.

Things like ensuring you have regular appraisals with your employer so that you know what is expected of you or following a healthy lifestyle so that poor health doesn’t make you get behind with your work can make a huge difference.

You may also want to push to make sure your place of work is properly-equipped to recognise the signs of stress and deal with them before they become a real issue. Again, the HSE helps employers fulfil their duty of care to their workers, so make sure your HR department have all the relevant training and resources in place.

Further Reading



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