How To Identify and Manage Stress at Work

More and more employees are experiencing stress at work and stress is being cited as a major cause of long-term absence from work. In this blog, we’re looking at how to identify and manage stress in the workplace.

The HSE defines work related stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work” and CIPD says that “people become stressed when they feel they don’t have the resources they need (whether material, financial or emotional) to cope with these demands”.

There is of course a distinction between healthy levels of pressure that challenges and motivates staff and excessive levels of pressure which becomes harmful. The difficulty is that the tipping point between health and harmful may be different from one employee to the next, and may even be different for the same employee from one day to the next depending on what is going on in their life and how robust they’re feeling.

Sometimes the frequency with which stress appears on sick notes can make employers feel cynical, particularly if a stress-related absence occurs where the employer is trying to manage an employee’s performance or conduct in the workplace. However, it is important to remember that not everyone has the same levels of resilience and where a diagnosis has been made on a sick note then the employees’ feelings of stress must be assumed to be genuine.

ACAS has advised that stress can often lead to other forms of mental and physical health problems including anxiety and depression, back pain, heart disease and alcohol or drug dependency. It therefore needs to be taken seriously and addressed as early as possible.

So, how do you identify stress?

Early signs may include:

  • A decline in performance or inconsistent performance
  • Uncharacteristic errors
  • Indecision
  • Lapses in memory
  • Increased time at work – late nights, not using holiday…
  • Mood changes including crying, undue sensitivity, irritability, temper outbursts, shouting
  • Clashing with colleagues
  • Resigned attitude
  • Tiredness
  • Tension headaches

If you’re working closely with your team you may be able to spot these signs more easily. Knowing your team well and being able to recognise changes in their attitude and behaviour will help you to identify stress when it arises.

If you notice that an individual is suffering with stress, you may want to sit down with them to identify the causes of stress and find ways to resolve them. This may involve carrying out a risk assessment of the employee’s role and environment to agree adjustments that might help. For example, an adjustment to duties, introduction of flexible working e.g. home working or reduced hours, promoting a healthy lifestyle including improving diet and lifestyle to improve sleep and wellbeing, doing regular exercise, taking holidays.

You may also want to help the employee access counselling or stress management services. You should agree regular dates for review with the employee and encourage open communication. If this does not assist, it may be worthwhile referring the employee to an occupational health service for independent advice on practical steps that can be taken to help the employee.

In order to tackle stress in the workplace, you may want to review your policies and systems to ensure that the working environment is one in which troubled employees can be identified. For example, if someone is often working late or not taking holiday will that be picked up? If someone appears to be struggling, will someone talk to them about it, and does the employee know who they can approach?

You may also want to carry out an audit of your workplace to look for potential signs and causes of stress and identify ways in which to tackle them. For example, is there a need for additional training for staff to feel able to do their jobs well? Do managers need training to feel able to identify stress and have conversations with staff about how to tackle stress? If workload is generally high across the team is there a need to recruit?

As always, if you’d like to talk this over or need any help, call the New Dawn Resources team on 01484 680098 or contact us via the website.