Combating Stress In The Workplace

Mental Health By Matthew Coombes

What is stress

Stress is a psychological and physiological reaction to events, people and stimulus in our lives. What causes us stress will depend on the individual, but it can be caused by anything from an irritating noise through to the loss of a loved one.

Stress affects us all differently and it’s essential that as an employer you understand the difference between stress and pressure.

Pressure is the feeling of responsibility to do something right, which may include working to a deadline, to a high standard, or doing multiple things at once.

Pressure becomes stress when we don’t have enough resources (including time, renumeration, support, mental energy, and equipment) to complete our work.

Think about your current workload – if you only had one task to complete today, would it be as hard as doing everything that you currently do?

Typically, the answer is no. An increased workload will mean that we have less time and resources to allocate to multiple tasks, which can leave us feeling stretched thin, a bit frazzled and stressed.

How can we combat stress in the workplace?

1. Talk to employees

If you think that one of your employees may be struggling with stress, in their personal life, even a short conversation can help. By talking to your employees, you can identify if you are falling short in any of your legal obligations to ensure their welfare and health is unaffected by working.

Sometimes the stress will be coming from outside of work, but this doesn’t mean that the workplace can’t help. Sometimes a good line manager can make a massive difference when it comes to recovery from events in our personal lives. Work and work obligations don’t have to be an obstacle to recovery.

In some situations, you will only find out if employees are stressed if you ask, and if you have fostered a positive environment in which employees can disclose their concerns.

2. Assess employee workload

When it comes to workplace stress, one of the things that crops up time and time again is workload. Having too much work can easily lead to burnout and an employee may require time off work with stress.

It is integral to organisational success that employees have a reasonable workload, but what is reasonable between individuals will differ substantially.

This is where assisted self-assessment of workload comes into play. Assessing the work that employees have, and how they feel about it, can provide you with important information and guidance on how to make improvements.

Any assessment of workload should include a consideration for:

  • Mental & Physical exertion – How much concentration, mental capacity or physical strength/activity is required to complete the task(s)?
  • Time restraints – Is there sufficient time to complete the work?
  • Resources available – Are all resources available to the individual that they need (e.g. support, finance, time, software, hardware) and are these resources sufficient for the task? Could they be provided with additional resources?
  • Effort put in by the individual – Does the individual have to work hard/harder than others to achieve tasks?
  • The type of task – Is the work frustrating, unfulfilling, challenging, does it require a lot of precision?

3. Control over work

Having control over the way that we work can be a great way to reduce stress. If employees are not involved in the process of work, have little or no control over how or when work is conducted, they can feel disconnected from the work itself and it may cause stress.

Ownership can also reduce stress and foster productivity. If an employee is able to put their own skills, ways of working or initiative to good use while completing work it can make them feel more engaged, valued and provide them with satisfaction for work completed.

4. The cost vs time off trade

When looking to combat stress in the workplace, there are resources that will need to be expended in order to make a positive improvement. This will include things that can be easily seen such as cost of outside assistance e.g. training such as Working with Wellbeing to improve employees wellbeing and reduce stress, cost of hiring counsellors / using an employee assistance programme, or the cost of providing employees with paid leave.

As well as this there will be further costs that are harder to measure such as reduction in productivity to allow for combating stress, manager time to implement changes and any other resource that may be expended.


In comparison to an employee experiencing stress, burnout or even leaving the organisation, these costs are often insignificant.

Experiencing stress

Experiencing stress can become all-encompassing, both physically and mentally. Negative experiences of stress can lead to poor concentration, difficulties performing work effectively and precisely, and difficulties with workplace relationships.

Prolonged or intense stress can worsen mental health conditions and this can then further impact performance for years to come.
Being stressed can make working more difficult, which can then create more stress, and it becomes a vicious circle.


“Burnout happens when the demands placed on you have far exceeded what you are able to fulfil for a long period” – Dr Julie Smith.

When an employee experiences burnout, they are likely to become detached from their work, and potentially more distant in their home life. Burnout can lead to physical, emotional and cognitive difficulties, and they can feel completely drained of energy.

This makes working very difficult and productivity will be unavoidable reduced.

Staff turnover

If an employee is in a workplace or role that is causing them increased stress, they may look to leave work completely, or may look for new opportunities. If stress is unaddressed, this can happen without notice, and the costs to cover or replace the individual will be substantial. If they are able to be covered and you need to cover their position immediately, placement agencies and recruiters will charge considerable amounts to provide a temporary or permanent replacement.

Glassdoor, an employee-focused workplace review and job search platform, estimates that the cost of replacing an employee is around £3,000 and 27 days. Each of these 27 days will likely come with disruption to production, and the expenditure of management/employee time in recruiting and training the new member of staff.

At the end of the day, ask yourself how much would it cost to provide an employee with paid leave and retain their skills, knowledge and competency, compared to £3,000 and 27 days of disruption?

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