Skills for the Job: Managing workplace stress

Emma Mamo
Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Employers must be aware of how stress can negatively affect the wellbeing of their staff, and the steps they can take to manage it.

Address problems early to make sure staff get the right support. Picture: Alex Deverill
Address problems early to make sure staff get the right support. Picture: Alex Deverill

How many people are affected by stress and anxiety at work?

One in six workers is experiencing stress, anxiety or depression. We all have mental health just as we all have physical health, and our wellbeing goes up and down all the time. That is why it's so important that employers proactively manage the mental health of all their staff, whether they have a diagnosed mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, or not.

What are the symptoms?

Stress is helpful in small doses, helping increase alertness and productivity, but exposure to severe stress over a long period of time is not good for you. You might feel tense and agitated, find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions and be snappy with the people around you, or perhaps tearful and withdrawn. Sometimes people feel down, losing interest in things they normally enjoy. Often people experience physical changes too, such as headaches, sleeping problems, tiredness, high blood pressure, nausea, indigestion or loss of appetite.

Stress is not a medical diagnosis, but severe stress for a long time may lead to a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, or more severe mental health problems.

What are the implications for the workplace?

Staff experiencing prolonged stress are not going to be at their most productive. Long-term stress can harm your ability to carry out your role effectively, damage working relationships and potentially lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Stress is also one of the biggest causes of sickness absence in the UK.

How can it be managed?

Ultimately, it's down to employers to address stress in the workplace and do everything they can to support the wellbeing of all their staff. However there are things that employees can do to help manage their own stress levels. These include managing your time effectively. Having a "to do" list helps you get your worries out of your head and down on paper and you can use it to help you prioritise your workload. Work out when in the working day you are most productive and do important tasks when you have the most energy, and try not to do too many things at once.

Have boundaries and try not to let work spill over into your personal life. Everyone has times when they need to work overtime, but try to make this the exception not the norm. You may be working longer but it's unlikely you will be working better, because long hours quickly take their toll on your concentration, productiveness and health. Use your commute home to mark the boundary between work and home by using it to unwind; walk or cycle at least part of the way if you can to get some exercise, or read a book or listen to music - anything to help you to switch off.

If you need to bring work home, designate a separate area for work and stick to it - you'll find it much easier to close the door on work this way.

Where should people go for support?

Ideally someone who is stressed at work should be able to talk to their employer about their workload and the support available to help them. There are plenty of things employers can do: from having regular catch ups with staff to allow discussion about the issues they are facing to introducing flexible working hours. Above all, it's important that workplaces create an open dialogue where staff feel able to discuss their wellbeing. If you are worried that stress at work has affected your mental health and want help, visit your GP. Identifying and addressing problems early can help make sure you get the right support and prevent more complex problems developing in the future.

Tips for a better work-life balance

  • Start a 'to do' list and manage your time effectively
  • Take regular breaks to relax and refocus
  • Leave work at a reasonable time and create clear boundaries between work and home
  • Find ways to unwind and switch off
  • Ask for help

Further information


Mind also has a confidential information and support line, on 0300 123 3393.

By Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind

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