What is stress in the workplace?

Pressure in the workplace is unavoidable yet, it can be manageable.

So, what is stress?

Well, it is the body’s response to any kind of pressure. The reaction to stress can be for a range of reasons such as having little to no support, or lacking control in a situation. If this is prolonged, your employee may struggle to cope, damaging their mental and physical health. However, stress will affect everyone differently and factors such as skills, experience, age, and disability will change how a person reacts to certain triggers.

Stress triggers are commonly found in the workplace, that can include; working longer hours, struggling with a heavy workload, failing to meet targets, lacking job security, and having conflict with colleagues or managers. This can easily become a significant issue, even a health and safety issue, that potentially could result in long-term absence from work.

What are the signs of stress in the workplace?

Stress can be seen in multiple ways, among individuals and teams.

You may see a difference in your staff such as a decrease in performance and submitting more complaints and grievances. These indicators show that your staff are unhappy and unable to fulfil their requirements.

Now it’s your chance to recognise these signs and take action. If no action is taken, you might start to notice that staff are leaving or falling ill due to them not being able to cope.

There is a long list of symptoms that indicate someone may be stressed, some of them are listed below.

  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Lacking motivation, commitment, and confidence
  • Constantly tired due to them struggling to sleep
  • Snapping at colleagues (Mood swings)
  • Uninterested in life
  • Having poor relationships with others
  • Work longer hours or take more time off
  • Becoming more sensitive
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, emotional, irritable, and overwhelmed
  • Drinking more alcohol, and increased usage of recreational drugs
  • Burnout

However, while you may recognise the key symptoms of stress, you may not know the root of the issue.

Multiple factors could make your employee stressed, but you as an employer you need to resolve this as best you can.

An example could be they are working longer hours due to a heavy workload. When you notice that this is happening, you can ask how you can make it easier for them. By discussing the situation and coming up with solutions to help your employee. You need to make sure you simply don’t put this workload onto another person as they will also get stressed. You need to come up with a solution in which everyone is happy.  

If you don’t know how to support your employee in this situation you can seek out training programs or seek professional consultancy.

Why will stress not disappear in the workplace by itself?

Stress will never just disappear by itself.

Stress can only be reduced when ways are found to overcome this feeling. As an employer or a manager, you need to be able to recognise the effects of stress in yourself as well as others.

Once you have learnt how to manage your stress effectively, then you can go back to your team or colleague with effective ways to help them manage their stress.

However, when you are under high levels of pressure you may notice some changes to your daily life or other long-term effects. Indicating it is time to talk to your team and to find other ways to manage your stress. This may be hard to do but it’s one of the most effective ways of helping you.

It may feel like it won’t end and that you have to act like everything is fine but as soon as you talk and share how you feel it will get easier.

Effect of Stress on your communication

As mentioned before communication can be affected when you are experiencing stress.

You may wonder why, and you may not even notice.

But everyone around you might.

You or your employee might become easily frustrated and angry due to arising problems. This can be commonly seen when expressing feelings, as the wrong word choice can result in conflict with others. It may feel right then, but it creates more barriers.  

When dealing with stress your brain “shuts down” leading to problems with problem-solving, thinking laterally and creativity. All resulting in issues with your communication skills. To overcome this barrier, you will need to build up the confidence to talk to others.


Productivity plays a big part in a person’s working day as you learn how to efficiently use time and energy to make progress on tasks. When overloaded with a heavy workload it may be a struggle to find a place or focus on tasks, causing a loss in time. Ultimately missing deadlines, or information creating a larger workload to finish after working hours.

A way to manage this is to limit the amount of time spent on tasks and setting realistic expectations. Another thing you can do is remove distractions, such as scheduling dedicated times when you check your emails. You can also shut down the distracting tab or software for a certain time frame and then reopen it once you have completed your tasks.

Most importantly you may be lacking energy which leaves you mentally or physically drained, showing that you are slowly burning out. As the majority of your time may be spent consumed on other worries preventing you to stay the working day.

What is stress management?

Stress management is the ability to manage stress.

The first and best way of doing this is being prepared, as you will know how to manage your wellbeing and recover after a stressful event. This will not happen overnight, it will take time. You will need to learn your triggers, the ways you deal with the stress, and the symptoms to help you manage any stimuli. During this period, you will be building stress resilience, but there are some obstacles which can make this harder. These can be because of the lack of support or discrimination.

As an employer, you can contribute towards helping your employees manage their stress and achieve a better work environment with fewer absences. By doing this you will build a greater, more effective, and more resilient business team.

Why is stress management important?

We will say it again, stress management is important in the workplace.

Once you have implemented stress management support, you will see a greater change in the company culture, fewer sick days, and greater employee retention. It will eventually impact your employee’s creativity and productivity as the workplace will be less stressful as you have created a better support system. It also never hurts showing your employees that you care about their health and well-being.

Not only will you see these benefits in the work environment, but you will also see the following.

  • A boost in productivity
  • Increased engagement
  • Better decision-making skills
  • Better solutions to problems
  • Improved health among your employees
  • Better communication
  • Higher morale
  • Higher customer satisfaction

Furthermore, if stress management is not taken onboard employees can be left feeling unmotivated with continuous errors in their work potentially causing more issues.

How to report stress

The first point of contact that an employee may have when they are struggling with stress is you, the employer, as you are responsible for health and safety in the workplace.

This includes stress, as laid out by the HSE.

As both an individual and an employer, upon the first signs of significant stress you should deal with this as swifty and appropriately as possible, whilst recording what adjustment can be made to help.

If the stress is due to workplace bullying or harassment, you can also report this to ACAS.

Finally, remember that you are protected by the Health and Safety Act 1974 and the Equality Act 2010 (especially if discrimination is a contributing factor to your stress).

How can employers manage stress?

Even on a good day, your employee could still be experiencing the effects of stress and you should never ignore this.

A key for you to be able to help your employees is understanding the early symptoms and signs of stress. This can be done by openly starting a discussion on this topic to challenge the stigma of stress, which may encourage employees to approach you about their struggles. You can start this in many ways such as asking direct, but non-invasive questions to understand how the person is feeling whilst trying to come up with solutions to move forward. However, as you make these adjustments you need to make sure that you are not putting this person at a disadvantage (preventing harassment, discrimination and victimisation) as you can be held liable for this. Taking these proactive steps will minimise stressful circumstances in the workplace as you care about your employees.

To help your employees you can offer.

  • Flexible hours
  • Hybrid working
  • Supported time off
  • Resources and support such as Headspace
  • Encouraging short breaks throughout the day
  • Having 1 to 1 meetings

Remember to not overpromise on what you can deliver for your employees.

Who is responsible for stress in the workplace

In the workplace, many different things can be responsible for stress such as poor work organisation, design, management, conditions and support. When considering your actions to help mitigate stress, try to identify the real root cause of it so that you can treat the whole issue and not just the resulting symptoms.

However, the ultimate responsibility is you the employer. You have to protect your employees from high levels of stress and make them aware that they also have a role to play when managing stress. You can suggest that they talk to certain people within the organisation or a manager. A Mental Health First Aid qualified person can certainly assist in this matter.

Is stress a positive thing or a hazard?

Work-related stress is one of the biggest health hazards in the modern workplace as it can be difficult to identify. You may not recognise the common symptoms or signs within yourself or your employees. However, you may be noticing that your employees are making more mistakes than usual, and this can affect safety levels as protocols can be overlooked which ends up resulting in accidents or injuries in extreme cases.

Low levels of stress may be beneficial to your company, as it can give your employees an “edge” driving their work performance up. It is important to monitor stress levels within your organisation to ensure that proper support is available to prevent distress, and chronic levels of stress, both of which will be detrimental. So, the answer is, yes stress is a hazard and should be monitored and handled with care, though if you find a balance and help your employees to feel safe and supported you may see some benefits.


To conclude, stress is a common struggle found in the workplace as it is one of the biggest contributors to  a loss of 15 million working days and over 5 billion annually, across the UK. As an employer, you may already have a support system to help your employees. However, there are employers who don’t know how to support their employees and don’t recognise any form of stress indicators. The best thing you can do is look into the common indicators of stress, make sure that your employees know they can approach you, and make sure that you are able to provide the necessary support. As long as you take onboard the points discussed in this blog, you will see great benefits in your organisation.

To get further assistance contact these helplines

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