Managing stress in the workplace

As businesses and individuals continue to adjust to new ways of working remotely and as many return to employment after furlough, there is a very real risk of work-related stress increasing. 

Recent research conducted by the Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of adults in the country have felt overwhelming levels of stress, as well as an inability to cope, over the last year. Since the start of the pandemic stress levels have increased further. 

Yet, even before the pandemic took root, work-related stress, depression and anxiety were all on the increase. The last year has only served to amplify some of these issues, and as people return to work, it is safe to say that yet more change is going to present many individuals and the businesses they work for, with some fresh challenges. 

The repercussions of mental health issues on the wider business community and the economy are significant. In 2019/20 stress, anxiety and depression accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of working days lost from work-related ill health. That’s half of all employee absence. 

Figures such as these highlight how vital managing stress in the workplace really is. Putting measures in place to both recognise the signs of stress amongst employees, and to make the necessary moves to prevent, reduce and manage it, are key if both employees and the businesses that they work for are to continue to thrive. Especially as managing workplace stress, whether an employee is based at home, in the office or between the two, is not only good employee relations practice but also a legal health and safety requirement. 

What workplace issues should businesses look at? 

It is important to record, manage and reduce health and safety risks (of which workplace stress is one), while making reasonable adjustments for those suffering from mental ill-health, in the same way as with physical illnesses. The earlier the problem is confronted the less impact it will have on the wellbeing of employees and your business. 

It is a simple fact that someone in your business will have suffered from stress while working. The following factors need to be considered so that adverse mental health can be managed in the workplace. If these issues are not addressed, this could lead to employees experiencing poor health, increased absences and low productivity. 

• Demands – workload, work patterns and the work environment

If employees are returning to work, accept that capacity may be reduced, and that their work rate may be reduced to start with. Adjust the demands to recognise this and then build over time as the employee returns to being fully ‘match fit’.   

• Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work

Many employees will be returning to a new hybrid model of working. This is a fantastic opportunity to help design a role that is of benefit to both the employer and employee. Employees should be part of this process and help to create an approach that is mutually beneficial and encourages the employee’s sense of being in control. 

• Support – encouragement, sponsorship and resources available to workers

There is a real opportunity for businesses to differentiate themselves as an employer of choice and to make their workplace a great place to be. This includes how employees are encouraged in their role and opportunities for growth and development. As businesses look to the future and grow, employees will be looking, amongst other things, at how they are supported by the business and how their wellbeing is prioritised.  

• Relationships- promoting positive working to avoid conflict

The last 12 months may not have been the same for all employees. Some may have been furloughed, while many may have been able to complete the role from home, and others may have been required to be present in the office. These differences have the potential to divide an organisation and create a ‘them and us’ culture. Businesses must recognise this as a risk and consider how to bring commonality, shared purpose and appreciation for how all employees played their part during the pandemic. 

• Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation

Roles in an organisation may have changed, either being forced by legislation or through opportunism, for example entering a new market or providing different goods or services. While ‘playing out of position’ might be accepted for a short period of time and when facing the challenges of surviving a pandemic, employees will start to look for clarity in their role and towards future stability as the crisis eases. Businesses should now start to define the ongoing roles in the organisation and how they support one another.  

• Change – how change (large or small) is managed and communicated

The last year has probably bought the most change to businesses for a generation. The speed of change has meant that many businesses have improved at communicating with employees. Leaders have also become more aware of the impact of change on employees. As employees became more distant because of home-working, businesses had to look creatively at engaging with employees differently and keeping them informed and engaged with change. The benefits of regular and clear communications through the business should now be maintained and built upon to increase people’s capacity for handling yet more change.

Individual circumstances – what stresses one person may not affect another

It’s also worth remembering that stress affects people differently. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may all affect whether an employee can cope. It is down to the business to be accommodating to these considerations.  


No employer wants to lose staff due to work related stress and there are a plethora of ways stress can be mitigated in work. The main point to remember is to install proper support and communication amongst staff.  

And remember, while pre-pandemic your work culture may have been a healthy one, post pandemic it could have changed. Social distancing, working from home and many of the other COVID-19 safeguards that have been put in place may have created new stress amongst your team and this shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet.  

It is a moral requirement that your business takes the necessary precautions to limit stress within the workplace and be actively working towards promoting a cooperative and positive culture.  

If your business would like to know more about managing stress and supporting good mental health in the workplace, and how your risk assessments can play a vital role in delivering this, contact our team here.

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John Brennan


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