Managing stress at work
Stress at work can have a significant impact on both an individual’s health and productivity. It’s the single largest cause of sickness absence in the UK, accounting for 17 million days of absence in 2021/2.
It is important for employers and employees alike to be aware of the causes and consequences of workplace stress. Taking steps to manage it effectively is a very sensible step.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforces the legal duty of employers to protect workers from stress at work. Here’s a summary of their main recommendations, which they expect employers to take:
- Assess the risk: Employers should assess the risk of stress-related ill health in their workplace and identify the key causes of stress.
- Promote a positive culture: Employers should create a positive work environment that promotes well-being and reduces stress. This might include promoting open communication and a healthy work-life balance.
- Manage workload: Employers should ensure that workloads are manageable and that employees are not overburdened with excessive demands.
- Provide support: Employers should provide support to employees, such as access to a counsellor or an employee assistance program.
- Training and awareness: Employers should provide training and awareness-raising activities to help employees understand stress, recognise the signs of stress and develop coping strategies.
- Review and update policies: Employers should regularly review and update their policies and procedures to ensure they are effective in reducing stress in the workplace.
The HSE’s guidance is designed to help employers create a safe and healthy work environment and to support employees in managing stress effectively. By following the recommendations, employers can reduce the risk of stress-related ill health, improve the overall well-being of their employees and ensure compliance with the law.
Psychological stress at work
Psychological health conditions such as depression, anxiety and stress are often caused by a mixture of factors, including work-related stress, personal problems and life events.
In the workplace, factors such as high workloads, long hours and poor management practices can contribute to increased levels of stress and anxiety.
One of the most significant trends in recent years is the increasing recognition of the importance of mental health and well-being in the workplace. There is wide acceptance of the need for employers to take action to address this issue.
This is reflected in the increasing number of employers who are offering health and well-being programs to their employees, as well as in the development of new policies and regulations aimed at reducing the risk of mental health conditions in the workplace.
Mental Health First Aid training is just one example of the steps employers can take to help improve wellbeing and reduce risks. Specialist independent charities like Oakleaf Enterprise can provide extensive free support for employers too.
The increasing use of technology and social media has also led to increased levels of stress and anxiety, particularly among younger people. This is an issue that is likely to continue to impact mental health in the UK in the years to come.
The use of evidence-based interventions, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based approaches to prevent and manage mental health conditions in the workplace may also be very helpful. These interventions can help employees to manage their stress and anxiety and improve their overall mental well-being. They are often accessible via private medical insurance or employee assistance programmes.
Psychological health conditions, not just stress at work, are a significant cause of sickness absence in the UK and an increased focus on mental health and well-being in the workplace is likely to continue to impact this issue in the future. Employers and employees alike can play a role in improving mental health and well-being in the workplace and reducing the risk of psychological absence.
Top 10 tips to manage stress at work
There are a number of different strategies that can be used to manage stress at work, including:
- Lead by example: By setting an example and promoting a healthy work-life balance, you can encourage your team to prioritise their well-being and manage stress.
- Identifying the causes of stress: The first step in managing stress is to identify the causes of stress in the workplace. This might include factors such as high workloads, long hours, unrealistic deadlines and poor management practices. Once the causes of stress have been identified, it becomes easier to develop strategies to manage it.
- Time management: Effective time management is a key strategy for reducing stress at work. This might involve prioritising tasks, setting realistic goals and making use of tools such as to-do lists, calendars and timers.
- Workload management: It is important to manage workload effectively in order to reduce stress. This might involve delegating tasks to other team members, reducing the number of projects that are being worked on or considering flexible working arrangements.
- Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga, can help to reduce stress and improve overall well-being. These techniques can often be practiced during work breaks or even while sitting at a desk.
- Exercise: Regular exercise has been shown to be an effective way of reducing stress and improving mental health. This can be as simple as taking a walk outside or participating in a structured exercise program.
- Social support: Having strong social support networks can be a key factor in managing stress at work. This might involve talking to friends and family or seeking support from a counsellor or support group.
- Healthy eating and sleeping habits: Maintaining healthy eating and sleeping habits can also help to reduce stress. This might involve eating a balanced diet and getting sufficient sleep each night.
- Communication: Good communication is important in managing stress at work. This might involve talking to supervisors or managers about work-related concerns or seeking support from colleagues.
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness-based approaches, such as meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), can also help to reduce stress and improve overall well-being. These approaches can be practiced at work, or in the evenings, and can be a helpful way of reducing stress and improving mental health.
It is important to note that while the strategies listed above can be effective in reducing stress, they may not be appropriate for everyone and it is important to seek advice from a healthcare professional if stress is having a significant impact on health and well-being.
In conclusion, managing stress at work is an important issue for both employers and employees. By identifying the causes of stress, and taking a proactive approach to managing it, it is possible to reduce the impact of stress on health and well-being, and to improve overall productivity and satisfaction in the workplace.
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