overwhelmed and unable to cope: how organisations can manage stress in the workplace

Over the past couple of years society has begun to change its view on mental health, and there’s been encouraging progress in raising awareness through increased news and social media coverage, however, it’s important to note that there’s still lots more work to do.

Recent research commissioned by The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) and undertaken by YouGov has revealed, just 14% of the UK workforce feels comfortable talking about stress to their manager.

What is stress and what are the symptoms?

Stress is our body’s natural response to certain situations and events. Our bodies react by releasing powerful hormones and our immune system heightens to help us to respond quickly.

Everyone has a different resilience to stress and if the pressure or situation is  relatively short-lived, we often do not experience any serious and lasting effects. However, when our exposure to stress becomes too frequent, intense or prolonged it can put so much wear and tear on the body that we are left overwhelmed and unable to cope. This type of stress can have serious mental and physical effects on the body.


Symptoms of stress:

The MHF’s research has proved that stress has a negative effect on mental health. 51% of stress suffers reported feeling depressed, 61% reported anxiety, 32% revealed it caused them to self-harm, and 16% had suicidal thoughts.

Stress does not just affect your mental health, there is also physical symptoms such as; sleep and memory issues, a change in eating habits such as comfort eating, less likely to exercise, more likely to smoke, and abused alcohol or drugs. In the most extreme cases, long term stress can cause problems with the gastrointestinal system and can bring on IBS and stomach ulcers, cardiovascular disease, and lower the immune system contributing to poor physical health and lower life expectancy.


Stress in the workplace:

We spend a large proportion of our time at work and although it’s proven that good work can be beneficial to good mental health, work has been identified as a major cause of stress.

12.5 million working days were lost due to stress, anxiety and depression in 2016/17, and 300,000 workers with long term mental health issues lose their jobs each year in the UK. This is why tackling stress in the workplace must become a major priority of UK businesses.

The MHF’s study found only 14% of workers felt comfortable enough to talk to their manager about stress, while a Unison report in 2017 revealed 92% of workers felt they had been under too much pressure at work. The enormous differences in these figures prove that much more needs to be done to help prevent workplace stress.

Causes of workplace stress have been attributed to long working hours, staff cuts, large workloads and personal difficulties with managers. It’s reported that 59% of employees take work calls outside of hours and 55% send and respond to work emails while not at work. It is of paramount importance for workers to strike the right work / life balance, and it can be incredibly difficult, especially if the employee holds a high-pressured position.

With Stress comes an increase in employee sickness levels, more lost time, lower productivity, and a higher workload on other colleagues, not to mention the increase of employee turnover. This highlights why it is important for employers to recognise stress in the workplace and proves why it’s much more cost effective to tackle stress at the root.


How to prevent workplace stress:

As an organisation, you have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for your employees. There are a number of key actions you can take to help identify, prevent and treat stress in your business.

  • Create transparency and take away the stigma throughout the organisation, encourage staff to speak out about their concerns and experiences and give your employees confidence that their mental health is being taken seriously.
  • Train your managers to spot signs of stress. Be familiar with the key symptoms and be confident of offering support or signposting expert help. The company should play an active role in managing stress levels at work.
  • Always carry out back to work interviews. They create a safe space for the employee to talk about their experience with stress and will give you valuable information on how to improve the workplace environment to prevent further absence. Initiating a steady stream of conversation will create an honest approach to managing mental health and will give your employee confidence when it comes to confiding in someone.
  • Try to remove the pressure form employees. Work / life balance is hugely important, encourage workers to turn off emails and not take calls during evenings and weekends which will help workers to ‘switch off’. Reward them for staying late or working hard by offering an early finish on a Friday.
  • Incentivise healthy habits, it has been widely reported that leading and maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle can relive symptoms of stress.

It is important to remember that stress at work can follow us home and a better life/work balance can really help to increase productivity. polkadotfrog are committed to improving the working environment and increasing the awareness around mental health.