The scale of workplace stress is undeniable: according to the HSE, 600,000 people in the UK reported experience work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2018/19—this is around 44% of all work-related illness. Workplace stress can be caused by anything from heavy workload to poor workplace relationships—personal problems, illness and financial difficulties are also major causes.

What causes workplace stress? 

Identifying the causes of workplace stress can be difficult. It’s incumbent on HR professionals and colleagues themselves to work out what problems they’re facing, and for colleagues to communicate any personal factors that might be contributing to their stress. Some common causes of stress within the workplace can include:

  • Heavy workload, long hours, poor time management and too many tight deadlines can easily overload staff
  • Colleagues who have little control over when, where and how they work will quickly become stressed
  • Lack of support from managers and colleagues can affect employees if they feel they have nobody to talk to about their issues
  • Poor workplace relationships, bullying or lack of discipline can create a stressful work environment
  • A change in office location, a shakeup of staff structure or uncertainty about an employee’s future role can be a significant contributor to stress

    Personal issues and circumstances differ from person to person, and many of them—such as illness—are beyond the responsibility of HR professionals.
    In such a case, support and guidance is necessary, rather than material changes to a workplace.

What are the signs of workplace stress?

Workplace stress is relatively simple to identify, as long as you know the signs. These include a change in appearance, demeanour, mood and behaviour, a reduction in the quality and quantity of their work, poor timekeeping, a change in appetite and an increase in drinking and smoking. A colleague experience stress may also appear tired and haggard and show less interest in socialising and tasks they previously enjoyed.

Workplace stress may also spill over into other areas of their life. Look out for it in your friends and peers, too: if a friend is increasingly stressed, withdrawn or tired, the roots of the problem may lie in their work. 

How can you reduce workplace stress?

Reducing workplace stress starts with performing a risk assessment to identify any areas in which a firm is failing to tackle workplace stress. As part of this, it’s vital to give employees a safe and private opportunity to express their own concerns and a forum to communicate their own struggles with stress. After this, you can begin implementing strategies to reduce workplace stress.

Flexible working—giving staff more options for how, when and where they work—is being adopted by more and more firms to combat workplace stress. This can include job sharing, working from home, remote working, compressed hours and phased retirement, but also providing private and open office spaces, providing tools for working from home and allowing, for instance, colleagues with children to fit their work hours around their childcare needs. These steps can give employees a greater level of control of their work life, significant alleviating stress.

It’s also important to take steps to change workplace culture, perhaps by promoting better time management, compelling people not to work too long hours, and encouraging them to take their full allotment of paid holiday. On a larger scale, removing some of the stigma around taking time off for health reasons will also help alleviate stress. 

HR professionals also need to establish robust support networks upon which colleagues can call. Communication is at the heart of wellbeing, so colleagues need to know they have a private, safe, secure environment in which to talk through their problems, get advice—such as mental health first aid—and guidance on next steps to seek professional care. They need to be sure their problems will be taken seriously, particularly personal issues which are sometimes dismissed as irrelevant to the workplace.

Learn more at Workplace Wellbeing Show

To discover more ways to handle workplace stress, get your free ticket to Workplace Wellbeing Show 2020. Taking place on 8-10 September at ExCeL London, this show offers seminars and presentations on key wellbeing trends and strategies, and hosts suppliers of leading wellbeing solutions to help you improve workplace wellbeing.