Ways for employers and employees to combat workplace stress

13th June 2019 | Blogs

Posted on 21/05/19 by Unum

How often do you hear people say they’ve been ‘stressed’ at work? Probably most days. But for thousands of employees this means more than just a throw-away comment.

Stress is becoming an increasingly significant issue within UK workforces, with HSE data showing that 526,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17, contributing to 12.5 million lost working days across the same period1.


workplace stress


So, following on from this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week which focused on stress, we look at what employers and employees can do to help combat stress in their workplace and support colleagues who are struggling.


What can employers do to combat workplace stress?

Employers can play an important role in managing workplace stress and ensuring that employees are coping with the day-to-day demands and pressures of their job. It’s in the company’s best interests too. Not only can prioritising staff’s mental health help attract and retain committed employees by showing you care, it can save the business significant amounts of cash. Deloitte’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in Employment study found that poor mental health costs UK employers between £33 and £42 billion a year2.

Here are a few ways employers can help tackle stress in their workplace:

  • Create a stress awareness space: Mind recommends creating a stress awareness space where staff can share their thoughts and feelings when they are stressed. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy – just a meeting room or private corner. The charity has a number of posters and resources available to place in the space.
  • Be aware of presenteeism – Employees who turn up to work despite struggling with mental health problems may not be doing the best thing for themselves or the company. If you spot someone struggling, make it clear that you would prefer them to recuperate properly rather than coming into work if they are not up to it. Similarly, if someone has been off work with stress, make sure their return to work is managed properly.
  • Make sure managers are properly trained: Currently, less than a quarter (24%) of line managers have received any mental health training3. Making sure your managers are trained to spot the early warning signs of stress and offer the right support can prevent problems escalating. Our interactive online stress module can help HR and line managers to do this.
  • Improve communications – Poor communication can be an underlying reason for workplace stress. Change at work can be a huge source of stress and while it won’t be possible or appropriate to keep staff updated about absolutely everything, communicating any upcoming changes and explaining what they mean is important. If you have any support tools available, for example an employee assistance programme (EAP), don’t forget to regularly remind your employees so they can make full use of them.
  • Be flexible – According to a report by Cascade HR, approximately half (47%) of people think that flexible working hours can help reduce workplace stress4. While it won’t be suitable for all companies and employees, if flexible working is something you can offer, it may be worth considering introducing it. Even small changes like allowing people to leave early on a Friday could make a difference.

What can employees do to help themselves and their colleagues?

While there are changes that employers can implement to help their workers better cope with workplace stress, there are also lots of things that employees can do to help their colleagues, and themselves.

  • Reduce the stigma – People can be reluctant to talk about feeling stressed with their colleagues as they think they are the only person who is struggling to cope. If you have experience of dealing with stress, or another mental health problem, why not share your story and help reduce the stigma surrounding it? This doesn’t have to mean sharing with the whole company – you could just talk one-on-one with someone.
  • Share coping strategies – From deep breathing exercises to taking a walk in the fresh air at lunch, people often have their own strategies to help them cope with workplace stress. If you have something that works for you, share it with colleagues to see if it can help them. This infographic shows ways to improve your mental health on a daily basis.
  • Organise a Curry & Chaat - as part of Mental Health Week fundraising efforts, the Mental Health Foundation is encouraging people to get friends together and enjoy a curry night while raising money for a good cause. Getting together with friends and strengthening relationships is important for maintaining good mental health and isn’t just limited to one week of the year. Why not get colleagues together once a month for a good catch-up?

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