What are the causes of work-related stress? And how to tackle them Did you know that work-related stress and mental illness now accounts for over half of work absences? According to a report in The Telegraph, there were almost 600,000 new or long-standing cases of stress, anxiety or depression and 15.4 million working days lost in 2017/18. It is part of the huge productivity puzzle that beleaguers British businesses. A 2018 survey by Perkbox on workplace stress found that work is the most common cause of stress for UK adults (59 per cent of those surveyed said they are experiencing it, and just 9 per cent said they never experience stress at work). Work-related stress is a problem that British businesses need to acknowledge. So, what are the causes of workplace stress and how can employers tackle them? Let’s start by defining what work-related stress is. What is work-related stress? The government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. Stress is not an illness in itself, but it can make you ill. The HSE point to six main areas that can lead to work-related stress. These are: • Demands of the job • Control over work • Support • Relationships • Role • Change Stress can be a difficult thing to measure in the workplace because every employee will have a different stress threshold and react to stress at work in different ways. Some employees who are struggling with stress-related problems at work will be harder to identify than others. Stress, anxiety and depression in the workplace are often more difficult to spot than any physical health problems. However, employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress in the workplace so should be carrying out appropriate assessments to spot any adverse effects and acting on the results to remedy them. Importantly, employers must do more to develop awareness around work-related stress and mental health at work . Isn’t stress a good thing? A certain amount of stress can be a good thing. It can help us to accomplish tasks more efficiently, boost memory and in the short-term has been scientifically proven to have a positive impact on the body’s immune system. However, beyond a certain level, it is proven that continual stress actually has a detrimental effect on health. Unchecked stress can contribute to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. What stresses employees? Some stress factors in the workplace are obvious. Things like heavy workload, tight deadlines, long hours, job insecurity and conflicts with colleagues or managers are usually easily recognisable. However, there are many less obvious reasons employees can start to feel stressed, including finding the job boring, a lack of opportunity, micromanagement, inadequate resources, a lack of training, a lack of support, poor environment, changes to duties and poor relationships, harassment or discrimination. Even stress that originates in employees’ personal lives can have a huge impact on business productivity. People don’t hang up their emotions with their coats when they come to work, even if they appear to be doing so. Stress, whatever the source, will impact performance in some way or another. How can you spot if an employee is stressed? Stress in the workplace can easily build to unhealthy levels if not managed properly. Identifying stressed employees is the first hurdle. When an employee is stressed you may notice changes in their behaviour . Important signs to look out for include: Increased absenteeism, or continual late arrival at work or leaving early A deterioration in quality and quantity of work A change in typical behaviours - over-reacting, arguing, increased irritability or appearing withdrawn and quiet A change in eating habits (i.e. eating junk food when they don’t normally) Deteriorating health A change in appearance – when people are depressed or highly stressed, they often pay less attention to themselves and their general appearance Fatigue – when somebody looks consistently tired at work Other general behaviours to keep an eye on include falling productivity, a lack of laughter (do colleagues appear unhappy and have they stopped chatting to each other) and has staff turnover increased? Check your Glassdoor reviews to see what your employees and leavers are saying about you. 3 Quick steps to deal with stress in the workplace Introduce these 3 things to address work-related stress. 1. Find out how your employees are feeling The first step to take in order to identify if employees are unhappy or experiencing work-related stress is to ask them how they are feeling. An employee engagement survey is a good place to start. Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step. Once you know what the causes are you can be effective in tackling them. Juggling work and personal life is one of the common causes of work-related stress. Consider offering reduced working hours, flexible working or some time off if an employee is struggling with personal issues. 2. Introduce mindfulness The idea of using mindfulness as a tool for relieving stress and improving focus in the workplace is becoming much more common. Headspace are just one of an increasing number of businesses offering corporate mindfulness programmes. Some experts believe that mindfulness works by helping people to pay attention to their emotions and accept them rather than push them away or react to them. The practise of mindfulness and meditation allows thoughts to come and go without judgement whilst focusing on the breath. It allows the person to focus on the present moment. According to Headspace, deep breathing exercises can have a profound effect on your state of mind. 3. Show your employees you appreciate them Fostering a culture of appreciation can help employees maintain a positive attitude through times of stress. The benefits of gratitude in the workplace have been well documented and have been shown to have a positive impact on employee well-being. For more information on dealing with stress in the workplace, see the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Guide here . About the Author: Dakota Murphey enjoys sharing her experiences of living a healthy lifestyle through her blog posts. Working as a freelance writer for a multitude of different industries, when she's not writing or cooking up a storm in her kitchen she enjoys hiking and countryside walks with her family.