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Spotting the signs and causes of stress in the workplace

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Spotting the signs and causes of stress in the workplace

Employees are the most valuable asset any business has and so looking after them should be a priority. A happy and healthy workforce is good for business; healthy employees tend to be happier, more productive and take less time off sick.

Unfortunately, mental health problems will affect one in four people at some point in their lives. Most are short-term and can be successfully treated. Sometimes these problems are caused or aggravated by workplace stress and if not managed can lead to physical and psychological damage. Mental health issues account for 40% of all workplace absences and it is estimated that 15.8 million working days are lost to mental health at an annual cost of £42 billion to UK businesses.

As an employer it is your responsibility to look after your employees' wellbeing and protect them from stress in the workplace. If you employ more than five people you are legally obliged to carry out a risk assessment and act on it by putting policies in place that act to minimise stress to employees. Employees who feel supported and cared for by their employer tend to be more loyal, engaged and motivated and with the right information you can help them to stay well, save money and maintain productivity.

Signs of stress in the workplace

In order to effectively manage your employee’s stress levels it is important that you are able to spot the signs that might mean an employee is struggling with stress. If you are concerned about an employee ask yourself:

  • Are they working longer than their contracted hours and/or working on weekends?
  • Are they not taking annual leave or failing to use their entitlement?
  • Are they failing to take breaks or using their lunchtime to catch up on work?
  • Are they acting out of character? For example, are they unusually quiet, impatient, frustrated or withdrawn?
  • Are they showing signs of fatigue?
  • Has their workplace performance decreased?
  • Have they got a reduced ability to concentrate on tasks?

If you think that an employee is showing signs of stress you should to find out what is causing them to feel this way think about what you can do to help them.

Common causes of workplace stress

Some of the most common workplace factors that lead to employee’s feeling stressed include:

Workload pressures

30% of workers in the UK say that heavy workloads cause them to feel stressed and their productivity is regularly impacted by performance pressure. If a heavy workload is causing an employee to feel stressed could you help them to delegate work or prioritise tasks?

Changes within the organisation

If there are changes happening within your organisation it is important to keep employees updated, particularly if the changes will affect them directly, in order to keep them fully informed so there are no surprises in the future. It will also help them to feel valued as a member of the organisation. Often when changes are happening in the workplace it causes employees to worry about job security which can lead to stress. If employees are to be made redundant in the changes make sure you follow the correct redundancy procedures and keep them informed at all stages.

Lack of work-life balance

It is important to remember that your employees have responsibilities and commitments outside of work such as child care, unwell relatives and household emergencies, and may at times need to prioritise those over work responsibilities. Many people also find that their family and friends are their support network and it is therefore essential that they have adequate time outside of the workplace to enjoy their personal time without the pressures of work. If a lack of work-life balance is causing your employees to feel stressed at work could you introduce flexible working hours or remote working?

Tight deadlines

If an employee is displaying signs of stress with regards to meeting a tight deadline think about whether the task can be split with another employee to lighten the load, or if the deadline is realistic and achievable. If there is no room for extension could other employees help out with other tasks which might be causing more stress by preventing them from reaching the deadline? If they are easily distracted could you provide them with a quiet space where they can focus on the task?

Too much responsibility

Whether a role is a step-up in a new employee’s career, a promotion for an existing employee or employees have had no choice but to take on extra responsibilities to meet demands, it is important that you monitor the stress levels of employees who have taken on more responsibilities than they are used to. They may doubt their abilities and question if they are right for the job if they are not properly supported and praised for doing well. Regular catch ups will help them to feel supported, ask for advice and give them the opportunity to share any worries they have. 

Insufficient skills and training

When a new employee starts it is essential that they are given sufficient training in order for them to feel confident in carrying out their work. Without sufficient training employees may become stressed if they are unable to handle or complete the work they are expected to do to a high standard or if they do something wrong. You should also encourage your employees to attend external training when work commitments allow in order to develop and broaden the skills they need for their role and so that they are kept up to date with changes in your industry.

Lack of support from managers and colleagues

Employees are more likely to suffer with workplace stress if they do not feel supported by their manager and colleagues. Promoting a culture of open communication in your organisation will help employees who feel stressed to ask for help from other members of their team if they feel that they are struggling. As an employer, regularly ask your employees how they are doing to give them the opportunity to ask for support if they need it. 

Poor workplace relationships

Unfortunately not everybody gets along with their colleagues and considering the amount of time we spend at work each week poor workplace relationships can lead to employees feeling stressed. If you notice that one of your employees does not get along with the rest of the team could you organise a social event outside of the office to give them a chance to get to know each other on a personal rather than professional level? Some organisations have introduced a ‘buddy’ system so that employees have somebody outside of their team who they trust and are comfortable with to talk about any issues they might be experiencing.

HR issues

If an employee is going through a grievance, dispute or redundancy process in the workplace it is highly likely that they will feel stressed during this or the situation could trigger an existing mental health problem. Make sure that all of your HR policies are up to date and take into account how these processes may affect an employee’s mental health. Consider allowing them to have a colleague they trust present with them in meetings to help them to feel supported. Listen to how they feel about the situation in the meetings and react or make adjustments as appropriate. 

Find out more about minimising stress in the workplace.