Coronavirus (Covid-19) Update:
  • The University of Lincoln would like to reassure you that all of our online Masters programmes are continuing as normal and on schedule.
  • The programmes are taught and studied entirely online, which means that they can be studied and completed from home, without any disruption to teaching provision or learning activities.
  • We are committed to ensuring that students are not disadvantaged in their studies by issues caused directly or indirectly by Covid-19 and we will be providing additional support to affected students wherever necessary.
  • Please contact us on +44 (0) 1522 254 022 or [email protected] if you have any questions.
Coworker comforting stressed and discouraged woman in office.

How to deal with work-related stress

Mounting workloads, constant notifications, tight deadlines, unrealistic expectations, less-than-ideal work environments and unsupportive co-workers are common daily stressors for many of us.

Of course, some level of work-related stress is unavoidable. However, stress levels that are too high – or ongoing issues that trigger chronic stress – can have profoundly negative effects on our mental health, physical health and relationships. Recent statistics reveal that work-related stress is the most common cause of stress, and it’s affecting large swathes of the UK’s working population:

  • 76% report moderate-to-high or high levels of stress
  • 73% point to workloads as the top cause of stress at work
  • 33% believe that high stress levels are impacting their productivity
  • 13.7 million working days are lost each year as a result of work-related stress, anxiety, burnout and depression, costing a collective £28.3 billion each year.

Champion Health’s Workplace Health Report 2023 noted further causes of stress at work to be lack of control, senior staff and management, job insecurity, insufficient training, commuting, working from home, and bullying.

The effects of stress don’t just have terrible consequences for employees’ personal health, happiness and wellbeing – with related physical health problems including heart disease, hypertension, immune system issues and strokes. For employers, stress is linked to poor productivity and performance, increased absenteeism and poor retention – and it’s something that all human resources functions must take seriously. So, what can be done to tackle the causes and symptoms of stress in the workplace?

What are the signs of stress to look out for in the workplace?

While stress is the body’s natural reaction to feeling pressured or threatened, unmanageable levels – which are often experienced in the workplace – must be tackled by employers. The sooner the signs are recognised – and these may vary in type and severity depending on an individual’s personality and how they respond to stress – the sooner that the situation can be addressed.

What signs and symptoms can signal to managers and supervisors that an individual is highly stressed? Common signs of job stress include:

  •         poor concentration and motivation
  •         poor performance and increased mistakes
  •         difficulty making decisions
  •         irritability and short-temperedness
  •         tearfulness
  •         tiredness
  •         low mood
  •         negative thoughts
  •         becoming withdrawn, avoiding events and isolating self from others.

How can work-related stress be managed?

While all of us have stressful days here and there, ongoing stress that affects health is a critical issue and action is required. Leaders and managers should be able to readily access stress management techniques in order to support and protect those they work with.

There are a number of stress management and coping strategies that can be put in place to help ease employee stress:

  • Address the specific source of stress and work pressure if identified – for example, ensuring targets are realistic, monitoring workloads, negotiating fair deadlines or intervening in unhealthy dynamics
  • Take regular short breaks away from work
  • Use time management and prioritisation techniques
  • Minimise exposure to stressful situations, where possible
  • Encourage healthy work-life balance – for example, flexible working, condensed hours, not working in own time, setting up a separate workspace away from other areas of the home if remote working
  • Build resilience through workshops and training programmes
  • Discourage perfectionism
  • Foster good employee working relationships and support networks
  • Conduct regular one-to-ones, team meeting and check-ins with employees
  • Normalise conversations about mental health – other employees may be able to share strategies that they find useful.

Additionally, a broader, holistic stress management toolkit should cover the foundational elements of good physical and mental health:

  • Exercise and physical activity
  • Healthy, balanced diet
  • Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness practices
  • Sufficient sleep
  • Time spent outside and amongst nature
  • Time spent with friends and family members to maintain social connections
  • Limit screen time and social media use
  • Seek counselling or professional help.

It may be necessary to signpost an employee to an organisational employee assistance programme (EAP), and your organisation’s health and safety executive (HSE) should be able to help with suggesting strategies to manage stress. Of course, there may also be sources of stress in an employee’s personal life. In such cases, signposting to external support services such as their doctor, a therapist, or charities such as the Samaritans or Mind can be useful.

What’s the best way to start a conversation with an employee who is suffering from stress?

It’s important to try and speak to employees if they are showing signs of stress. While some individuals may be reticent to open up, and conversations can feel awkward or uncomfortable, it’s a manager’s responsibility to safeguard and support their team members.

In a caring, empathetic way, approach them and ask open-ended questions to see if they will open up about how they’re feeling. Show concern, listen carefully and non-judgementally and refrain from offering unsolicited advice. At this stage, a manager is not expected to have all the answers and solutions, just demonstrate that they care about the employee’s wellbeing and that they’re on hand to help.

Ask if there’s anything that could be done to support them, schedule regular check-ins so that you can keep an open dialogue about how they’re coping, and reiterate that support will be ongoing. If they don’t want to open up, encourage them to speak to someone they trust about what they’re going through.

Tackle work-related stress in the best interests of businesses and their people

Forge ahead in your senior leadership or management career with the University of Lincoln’s online MBA Leadership programme.

Develop a critical, in-depth understanding of running complex business environments, on a flexible online course that fits around your current commitments. From sustainable business growth to strategic direction and global trade, you’ll gain the skills and business acumen needed to influence and guide key decisions and direction. Your learning will have real-world grounding, spanning academic theory, practical understanding and key industry research.

A range of engaging modules will enhance your understanding of business fundamentals, including leadership and development, people management, organisational change, strategic thinking, organisational networks, marketing, entrepreneurship, finance, governance and risk assessment, and much more.