Tackling workplace stress means understanding the triggers

Workplace stress continues to be a growing problem for many employers, surveys are showing, but employers also need to recognise stress triggers will often be things outside the workplace.


A quarter of UK employees, or the equivalent of six million people, took time off work for “workplace” stress in the past 12 months, and nearly half (44%) of managers say their stress levels have increased over the last six months, two surveys have separately concluded.

The polls, The 2016 Britain at Work report by consultancy Lansons and pollster Opinium and the2016 Management Agenda from the leadership institute Roffey Park respectively, have cast a spotlight on stress levels of UK employees and managers.

The Lansons poll has painted a picture of a significant minority (21%) of employees who receive no health and wellbeing benefits whatsoever at work.

Three quarters (76%) had also been through a major organisational change at work in the last two years, something that can often be a trigger for work-related stress. And, worryingly, only half (49%) of the employees polled said they trusted what their senior leaders said.

Fewer than half (45%) said their organisation was supportive of those with mental health problems (marginally up on the 44% reported in the same poll last year), and one in six (14%) claimed their organisation was actively unsupportive in this area.

Scott McKenzie, director of Lansons’ Change & Employee Engagement practice, said: “A quarter of people off because of stress is staggering, and that’s just in the last year.  Not only does this affect the wellbeing of the employee and their families, but employers will eventually feel the impact both on business performance, and on other employees who need to pick up the workload. Employers have a duty of care to provide appropriate support to their employees in order to address these issues.”

The Roffey Park study, meanwhile, highlighted that managers, too, feel under increasing stress and pressure.

The proportion reporting increased stress levels increased the further you went down the management scale. For example, 59% of junior managers reported feeling more stressed than six months ago.

Junior managers were also more likely to feel less secure in their jobs and less likely to feel they were fairly financially rewarded for the work they did.

What this all illustrated, argued BHWA member Libby Morley, of Mental Health First Aid consultancy Mindshift, is the potentially debilitating nature of stress on employees at all levels.

“Stress can directly impact one's mental fitness, ability to concentrate, communicate and deal with change. Many will thrive under positive pressure but when that becomes stress there is a risk to the mental fitness of your staff,” she pointed out.

"Prolonged stress can lead to anxiety, which can impact mental fitness,” she added.

However, employers also need to recognise that, often, it is factors outside of work that trigger the stress, for instance money or family or personal anxieties and worries. The environment and management culture within an organisation can therefore exacerbate or feed into these pre-existing anxieties and create something of a vicious circle.

According to BHWA member Paul Guy, national key account manager at PayPlan, debt or worries about money can one of the most common stress triggers.

“Debt frequently causes people to become stressed, depressed and isolated, often with no-one obvious to turn to for practical help. Some of us may even have mental health issues exacerbated by worries about money trouble. That includes your employees,” he pointed out.

“Living with debt can be stressful for your employees. It almost inevitably impacts their performance at work and their relationships with other team members. However, there are a number of ways you can help them deal with it.

“First and most important: seek help. There are organisations that provide free and confidential help and advice and, by referring an employee for support, employers can take measures to protect their organisation and support vulnerable employees in one simple act,” he added.


To find out more about where you can find expert help on managing stress in your organisation, contact the BHWA advice team on 020 3633 2822. 

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