An employer’s guide to dealing with stress at work

Stress can have a significant impact on your employees ability to work. Here Claire Williams, Managing Director of Operations, explores the causes of workplace stress and shares top tips for managing it.

Keep reading to learn more.

Stress can serve us well and act as a motivator to give us the burst of energy we need from time to time. But there can be a fine balance between healthy, motivating responses and unhealthy stress reactions.

When we feel pressured, out of control or in fear, stress can manifest itself both physically and mentally – impacting our work, relationships and other aspects of life.

Developing a workplace culture that promotes mental health, and equips all colleagues to identify and manage stress effectively is central to inclusion. Obviously, as employers, we have a duty of care to protect colleagues from stress at work, but clearly, stressors are not all work-related.

What are the main causes of stress at work?

Understanding individual differences, as with so many aspects of our work, is key to anticipating/avoiding or dealing with unhealthy stress.

Managers who take the time to get to know their colleagues play a pivotal role in the organisation’s ability to deliver on its duty of care and create an inclusive culture.

Simple interpersonal skills such as listening (properly), building trust and psychological safety, having empathy and accepting that we are all different go towards creating a low/lower stress work environment.

Why does workplace stress matter?

Workplace well-being and stress are inextricably linked, and overall well-being should be prioritised. Stress is frequently linked to other issues in the workplace that must be addressed.

Workplace stress is extremely important and should not be overlooked or dismissed. It not only has a mental and physical impact on your employees, but it can also have an impact on larger teams in terms of workloads and relationships.

The challenges of having stressed employees

Employees who are stressed face numerous challenges. Here are a few examples of how stress can affect your employees and the workplace.

People won’t work to their full potential

If a member of your team is stressed, they will not perform to their full potential. Stress can be a distraction, which means their mind will not be in the right place to perform their duties.

Mental health can be impacted

Importantly, for many stressed-out employees, their mental health can suffer. Workplace stress, as well as emotional stress, can be harmful to one’s mental health. Although an employee may appear to be fine, there could be a variety of factors affecting them.

Relationships can change

People who are stressed may become irritable or demotivated. This has an effect not only on the stressed-out individual, but also on the rest of the work team. Stress can cause people to act out of character, causing relationships to shift and dynamics to change.

How to manage stress at work

Managing stress at work and being aware are hugely important. Here are our recommended top tips for dealing with stress at work:

Be pro-active

Be pro-active and during induction ask new colleagues what you need to know about them to help them thrive in their role.

You could use the Inclusion Passport to support this discussion. Knowing that, for example, a particular time of year is difficult or that getting outside every day for fresh air is essential for that person equips managers with information that will enable them to really practice everyday inclusion.

Create spaces to share feelings

We are mindful that what is happening in the outside world can impact colleagues significantly. The war in Ukraine, the struggles of the Black and minority ethnic students to achieve safe passage, we can’t absorb these scenes without having an emotional response.   

Make time for people to share their feelings so they are not carrying them alone, which is much more of a risk in the virtual world that so many people now inhabit.

Tell colleagues that you are standing by the metaphorical water cooler if anyone wants to speak about what’s in the news… offer a pressure valve.

Raise awareness of stress and recognise the signs

Stress is not an illness, but it can make you ill and often employees can panic and not know the processes for going off with stress. Recognising the signs of stress will help employers to take steps to stop, lower and manage stress in their workplace.

Become stress aware; learn about healthy stress responses and unhealthy stress reactions and the practical support you can seek.

We have a wide range of member resources on this topic or you could consider becoming a Mental Health First Aider or just check out our events and book onto our webinars.

Think about circumstances

For many people, their working patterns, carer responsibilities, and the condition of their mental health might have changed over the past two years.

Employers who conduct regular surveys can gain insights into these factors that will enable them to consider making changes in order to enhance inclusion.

Importantly, they can also use this process to identify if certain groups are feeling more or less included. This is a significant retention tool at a time when recruitment is difficult.

Provide training for management to handle stress

Providing coaching and stress management skills at work for line managers can have real impact. Staff stress management is critical for overall well-being and management abilities.

Managers should understand how to monitor stress levels in the workplace and act on what they see.

Managers who feel able to suggest changes relating to diary and workload management can bring about really practical solutions including planning a working day; investing time at the start of the day to write a list of top five priorities to focus on, taking a break (doing something that is enjoyable, call a friend, do some stretching exercises).

Sometimes people feel they need “permission” to flex their day and managers make a huge difference if they actively recommend these small changes rather than focusing on presenteeism.

It’s also a good idea to complete a Stress Risk Assessment, which can help manage and reduce stress at work, both physically and mentally.

Consider your internal communications

Engage your internal communications team and encourage storytelling and advice about staying well and managing stress.

This could include eating a well-balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, exercising and switching off! Literally, switch off your work mobile and, if working from home, home workers put work equipment away to signify the end of the working day and maintain a good sleep routine (reduce caffeine and avoid screen time before bed).

Create support groups

Consider establishing a mental health peer support group – with proper safeguarding and governance. Offer access to mindfulness sessions, lunchtime yoga, free guided apps or online videos to encourage employees to mentally ‘switch off’. Some Employee Assistance programmes offer this type of support.

Reducing stress at work with Inclusive Employers

Here at Inclusive Employers, we can work with you and your team to focus on ways to reduce stress and raise awareness of stress in the workplace. Whether you’re looking for stress at work resources or managing stress at work training, we can help.

If you’re a member, take a look at our managing stress resource and speak to your account manager. If you’re not yet a member, get in touch today to see how we can help.