Work-Related Stress

Many employees deal with stress on a daily basis. For some, the stress in the workplace can become overwhelming and may lead to time off work.

Work conditions and demands can cause immense pressure on your employees' mental health.

As an employer, you have a duty of care to manage stress by creating a safe working environment for your staff.

Employee wellbeing should be one of your top priorities. If stress is overlooked, it leads to ill health. Here, you could face disciplinary actions or costly penalties if an employee is unfairly dismissed.

This guide will explain what workplace stress is, how to spot the signs of stress, and what the best treatment is to manage it.

What is Workplace Stress?

Stress is a response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures. It often occurs when an employee's knowledge and ability are challenged.

Stress can appear in several situations at work, so line managers need to keep an eye on their staff.

Employees may feel they have little support at work, especially when it comes to working processes. It's important to motivate your employees and develop good relationships.

Excessive pressure can damage an employee's mental health conditions which could lead to long-term physical health issues.

Symptoms of Work Stress

There are many symptoms of stress at work. And most can be categorised into behavioural, psychological, and physical effects.

Physical Symptoms

These include:

  • Tiredness.
  • Headaches.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Insomnia.
  • Muscular tension.

Psychological Symptoms

These include:

  • Feeling depressed.
  • Feeling anxious.
  • Feeling overwhelmed.
  • Being unable to concentrate.
  • Feeling pessimistic.

Behavioural Symptoms

These include:

  • Being aggressive.
  • Disinterest.
  • Mood swings.
  • Relationship problems.
  • A lack of creativity.

Employees suffering from workplace stress may also be more withdrawn or lack motivation for their job. If you think there may be a problem, speak with your employee or refer them to a GP.

Causes of Stress in Work

There are many causes of stress in work that can affect employees and reduce productivity.

These are:

  • Demands: Not being able to cope with the demands of the job or the long hours.
  • Control: Not being able to control the way they do their job.
  • Support: Not receiving enough information or support.
  • Relationships: A lack of or difficult relationships at work or being bullied.
  • Role: Not understanding their job or responsibilities.
  • Change: Not engaging when your business is changing.

Stress affects everyone in different ways. One cause may affect two people in completely different ways.

People face individual challenges whilst trying to cope with stress. And this is especially apparent when skills, age, or disability are involved.

The Performance Curve

A performance curve describes how individuals cope with different pressure or demands.

If there is no pressure to fulfil a task, motivation and performance are low.

An increase in pressure improves performance until it reaches an optimal level. But after a significant pressure limit, performance levels start to decrease. And this is clearly seen through exhaustion or burnout.

Presenteeism is a term to define when employees come to work but function at less than full capacity because of stress levels in the workplace or ill health.

Under The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a duty of care for their staff.

This includes protecting employees from workplace stress by conducting risk assessments and acting on them.

The Equality Act 2010 deals with disability discrimination. If an employee is disabled and tackling stress, they shouldn't be treated unfairly or put at a disadvantage.

Mental health may be considered a disability under certain circumstances.

How to Manage Stress in the Workplace

Managing and preventing stress in the workplace can be tricky. But there are several steps you can take to reduce levels of stress depending on the cause, such as:

Problems With the Workload

  • Get your employee to discuss their workload with you.
  • Ensure your staff member has enough time to complete each task.
  • Reward your workforce for achievements.
  • Work within limitations.

Difficult Work-Life Balance

  • Exercise and time outdoors can improve mental health.
  • Having time off can help refresh your staff.
  • Develop good working relationships with staff to boost morale.
  • Let your employees know you support them.

Lack of Support at Work

  • Offer an employee assistance programme.
  • Discuss additional training.
  • Staying Mentally Healthy: This can be spending time with their friends or family.

Improving an Employee's Mental Health

Small lifestyle changes can help improve your employee's mental health problem. To alleviate stress, employees can:

  • Improve diet: Eat and drink as healthily as possible. This can help reduce the impact of heart disease too.
  • Exercise regularly: Physical and mental health are heavily aligned. Even walking from the office on a lunch break can improve fitness levels.
  • Improve mindfulness: Breathing exercises are a good method to help with relaxation and find the source of stress.
  • Relax outside of work hours: Make sure employees are switching off after work and finding ways to relax

Getting the Right Amount of Sleep

If your staff aren't getting enough sleep, this could affect productivity, creativity, and the ability to focus on work.

Staff should try and avoid stimulating activities before bed, such as catching up on work. Reading or listening to music are great ways to help reduce stress.

Stress Risk Assessment

As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect your employees from stress. One of the best methods to do this is through risk assessments.

If you have less than five workers, no written documentation is needed. But it may be useful for you to review it later.

If you have more than five workers, you're required by the law to write the risk assessment down.

Role of the Health and Safety Executive

The role of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is to secure the health, safety, and welfare of employees at work.

The HSE can provide expert advice on how to manage stress at work. Their role as a regulator means they offer guidance and awareness to the employees who suffer from stress.

Advantages of Stress Management

Managing stress at work can protect employees and improve their wellbeing. Some advantages for stress management include:

Strengthening Your Working Environment

A good working environment will impact productivity, employee engagement and reduce sick days. You can do this by:

  • Listening and sharing: Consult with your team about key decisions.
  • Encouraging a work-life balance: Improve staff turnover through things like flexible work, time off for medical appointments, or reasonable leave for family issues.
  • Showing support: Make sure your staff know they're doing a good job and get recognition for it

Increasing Productivity

In the short term, stress can help boost performance by releasing adrenaline. This gives us an energy boost to conduct work.

But eventually, stress can leave you feeling exhausted and unmotivated.

Reducing Sick Leave

Stress and mental illnesses are leading causes of long-term sickness. Consider whether:

  • Your staff's workload is suitable.
  • If they have the required skills to manage in their job.
  • If your team works well together.

These steps will help you address the causes of stress in your business.

Reducing Costs

If one of your members of staff is absent due to stress, this can put pressure on others who are covering for them.

If you identify the cause of stress, the number of sick days will be reduced. This will mean you won't need to hire more employees to cover the workload.

Long-Term Consequences of Stress

Ongoing or chronic stress can create serious health problems for your employees, including:

  • Health problems, such as depression or anxiety.
  • Menstrual problems.
  • Skin or hair problems, such as acne, eczema, or hair loss.
  • Obesity or eating disorders.

Although stress is a part of life, there are several treatments for it. Treatment for Stress

To make changes at work or reduce excessive pressures, you need to make your staff more resilient.

If stress is affecting your employee's mental health, they may need to seek professional medical help. Some treatments for it at work include:

  • Talking therapy.
  • Complementary therapy.
  • Aromatherapy.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Reflexology.
  • Counselling.

Talking Therapy

Talking therapy can help reduce anxiety and stress for your staff. This type of

treatment will look at how employees respond to stressful situations, and it affects behaviour at work.

Complementary Therapy

Complementary therapies offer treatments such as:


Aromatherapy uses essential oils to help heal psychological and physical illnesses.

Depending on the oil, it can improve wellbeing and reduce levels of stress.


Acupuncture can decrease stress by promoting the movement of Qi in the body. It can stimulate the body's hormones and reduce anxiety.


This type of therapy uses gentle pressure on specific points on the feet to improve your mood. It can help you feel more energised and more relaxed.

These types of therapies can alleviate work pressure and improve mental health problems for your employee.


Counselling can help identify the cause of your staff members' stress.

There may be too much pressure for staff to discuss their stress at work. Counselling is conducted in a private environment, allowing your employee to manage stress and even reduce it.

Where to Get Help with Stress

If employees feel stressed at work, there are many places to get help, such as:

  • A GP or Doctor.
  • A psychologist.
  • Line managers.
  • Human Resources in your business.

Get Advice on Stress with BrightHR

Preventing work related stress is one of your top priorities. It can cause mental health problems for many of your staff members, so managing it must be handled with care.

There are many coping techniques to support your employees. Taking regular breaks or holidays can reduce excessive levels of stress and improve your staff's personal life or working life.

If it's overlooked at work, you may be faced with disciplinary actions or discrimination claims against your business.

BrightHR can help you manage stress with our BrightAdvice helpline. Don’t hesitate to call us if you need any help with tackling work-related stress.

Book a free demo today or give us a call on 08007832806

Have a question?

Ask away, we’ve got lightning fast answers for UK business owners and employers powered by qualified experts.

    Share this article