Managing Stress in the Workplace | Health & Safety


In this article, our expert Health and Safety Consultant, Adam Williams, explains what work related stress is and how employers can manage this in the workplace.

Stress can place immense demands on employees’ physical and mental health and affect their behaviour, performance, and relationships with colleagues. It’s a major cause of long-term absence from work and knowing how to manage the factors that can cause work-related stress is key to managing people effectively. Employers should take a systematic approach to identify the risks of it, for example by conducting stress risk assessments.

What is work-related stress?

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work-related stress as: ‘The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work’. People can become stressed when they feel they don’t have the resources they need (whether physical, financial, or emotional) to cope with these demands.

It’s well recognised that excessive or sustained work pressure can lead to stress. Occupational stress poses a risk to businesses and can result in higher sickness absence, lower staff engagement, and reduced productivity. According to the HSE, 17.9 million working days were lost to stress, anxiety, or depression in 2019/20.

If people feel under too much stress and for too long, mental and physical illness may develop. It can affect people mentally in the form of anxiety and depression, and physically in the form of heart disease, back pain and alcohol and drug dependency.

Staff surveys or focus groups, employee assistance programmes, and flexible working options/improved work-life balance remain the most common methods used to identify and reduce stress. 

Many workplace initiatives can help people to manage stress, whatever the cause. Things in an employee’s personal life, for example, financial worries or the loss of a loved one, can understandably cause stress and influence performance at work because people don’t necessarily leave their worries at home. This means employers and managers should treat people as individuals and help them to balance their work and personal responsibilities.

The UK Legal Position

Under UK health and safety legislation and common law, employers have a duty to take care of employees. This includes a responsibility to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it.

There is no one statute specifically covering the issue of workplace stress: a number of laws are relevant, and much of the law governing stress has evolved from case law rather than legislation. It’s important for employers to keep up to date with the implications of recent cases as the law in this area is continually evolving.

Dealing with stress in the workplace

Developing an organisational framework

The Mental Health at Work Commitment is a simple framework for organisations to implement. Based on the Thriving at work review the framework has six standards which provide a roadmap to achieving better mental health outcomes for employees:

  • Prioritise mental health in the workplace by developing and delivering a systematic programme of activity.
  • Proactively ensure work design and organisational culture drive positive mental health outcomes.
  • Promote an open culture around mental health.
  • Increase organisational confidence and capability.
  • Provide mental health tools and support.
  • Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting.

The HSE lists six main areas of work design which can affect stress levels, which employers need to manage properly:

  • Demands: for example, workload and the working environment.
  • Control: for example, how much say someone has over their job.
  • Support: for example, the level of supervision and resources available to do the job.
  • Relationships: for example, promoting positive working to help prevent conflict.
  • Role: for example, making sure people understand their role and how it fits in the organisation.
  • Change: for example, how organisational change is managed and communicated.

How can we help?

oneSAFE – This is an effective Health and Safety software tool backed by a team of expert consultants. We offer a vast library of Health & Safety templated documentation (including stress risk assessments), a task management function, and AutoSafe which sends automated reminders and tasks to you and your team to help them be proactive in renewing risk assessments, training, etc.

Mental Wellbeing training courses – We now offer a range of online Mental Wellbeing training courses. These courses vary in length and depth and will equip you with invaluable skills to help manage stress, as well many other mental wellbeing problems within the workplace. Our most popular course is our two-day online course to become a Mental Wellbeing First Aider.

Expert team – We have a team of expert Health and Safety Consultants who are on hand to help with all your work-related Health and Safety, including managing stress in the workplace. They are here to answer your queries, help draw up stress risk assessments and ensure you remain compliant.

If you would like to learn more about how we can help you to manage stress within the workplace or book onto one of our Mental Wellbeing courses, please get in contact with our team today.


Twitter: @oneHR_

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