In this blog, I will explore issues relating to stress in the workplace. The wording of the title has been carefully chosen to distinguish it from the term ‘work-related stress.’ There are certainly stressors potentially caused by the workplace. These include excessive workload and unreasonable demands, lack of autonomy and relationship issues with colleagues. However, a person struggling with stressors in their personal life will be more vulnerable to stress in the workplace. Personal life and work life impact upon each other. So, stress in the workplace is a product of the interaction between stressors in a person’s home and work life.

When a member of staff is stressed, the impact is far-reaching. Stress affects their health but also their ability to do their work and their interactions with colleagues. The impact of staff stress on businesses and organisations isn’t just about presenteeism, absenteeism and high staff turnover. It impacts on the workload of colleagues, relationships within the team and, ultimately, affects the business bottom line in a variety of different ways.

Interesting facts about stress and the workplace

17.0 million working days were lost in 2021/2022 due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety (Labour Force Survey)

In 2021/22, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health (HSE)

In 2020, analysis by Deloitte found that poor mental health cost UK employers up to £45 billion each year (2020). On average, for every £1 spent on supporting their people’s mental health, employers get £5 back on their investment in reduced presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover.

These figures are probably an underestimate of the problem for a number of reasons. It is hard to quantify presenteeism and the impact of one person’s stress on colleagues’ ability to work. Also, stress often presents as physical complaints which are not included.

What exactly is stress?

Stress can be defined as the mental, physical and/or emotional response to a situation and/or event that results in tension in the mind, body and/or spirit.

Stress affects our mind and the way we think. It affects our body, giving rise to a whole host of different physical symptoms. It also affects our emotions, or how we feel. All are interlinked.

Stressors are the things that make people feel stressed. They generally do this by causing anxiety or worry, or too much pressure or a mixture of both. It is important to understand that people react differently to pressure. For many, pressure is stressful and they function better when they don’t feel under pressure. For many others, pressure is motivating and energising and they thrive under pressure. Wherever someone is on this spectrum, there will come a point beyond which the pressure becomes stressful. This is when it becomes harmful.

Can stress be good?

It is important to distinguish between the Acute Stress Reaction, also known as the Fright, Fight, Flight response, and chronic stress. The Acute Stress Reaction is an evolutionary adaptation which enables us to respond to life-threatening situations with increased strength, speed and alertness. To achieve this response, some bodily systems are activated whilst others are suppressed. Once we have escaped or fought off the danger, everything reverts to its resting state. Clearly this response is healthy and very important. Unfortunately, this same response can be triggered in situations which are not life- threatening. If these situations persist, the changes in the body and brain can lead to harm. It is no surprise, therefore, that chronic stress has a negative impact on health and on people’s lives.

Top Tips for stress in the workplace:-

If you are feeling stressed at work, here are a few things that might help.

The Serenity Prayer: ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.’

It is important to differentiate between stressors which we can do something about and those which are beyond our control. Make a list of your stressors and identify the ones you are in a position to change. Make a plan of action. When you are working, these stressors maybe work-related ones.

Breathing: When we are stressed, our breathing tends to become more rapid and shallow which exacerbates our feelings of stress. A great and simple breathing technique is 6-8 breathing. Ideally, breathe through your nose. In for the count of 6 and out for the count of 8. The slower outbreath will help you feel more relaxed. Diaphragmatic breathing is one to look up and practise too. These exercises are easy to do at your desk without anyone noticing.

Mindfulness: This technique can be very effective at calming the mind by feasting the senses in the present moment. Have a look online and find mindfulness exercises that work for you.

Mindset: Make a conscious effort to notice things you are doing well. It’s easy to get bogged down in negative thoughts which contribute to feelings of stress. Identify your strengths, believe in your abilities and be kind to yourself if things don’t go as well as you hoped.

Movement: Moving our bodies and physical exercise are great stress relievers. Find things that work for you.

Nature: The natural world is totally free and such a wonderful stress reliever. It might be a case of looking out of the window from your desk or taking a few minutes to go for a short walk.

Additional advice

If you’re struggling, remember STAN: Spend time with people who build you up and make you feel good about yourself. Talk to someone. Ask for help. No: If you can feel yourself running on empty, find the courage to put your own needs first and not to feel you have to do everything you are being asked to do.

Managing stress in the workplace

I recommend that work-places adopt a proactive approach to stress with 2 prongs:-

  1. Workplace issues: Create a work-place culture where people feel able to talk to someone and ask for help. Know your team so that you can recognise when individuals are struggling. Identify specific issues in the workplace which are causing stress and address them.
  • Staff issues: Educate staff on stress and what it means for them. Help them understand what makes them feel stressed and how it affects them as an individual. Equip them with tools to minimise the potential harm to them and to the business.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss the impact of stress in your workplace and how I can help.