To coincide with National Stress Awareness Month 2023, we highlight the impact that stress can have in the workplace and offer tips on how employers can help to prevent work-related stress and promote mental wellbeing at work. 

Impact of stress in the workplace

It is well known that high levels of stress within a workforce can have negative impacts on productivity, attendance, morale and employee well-being. If employees are struggling to manage feelings of stress, it may lead to illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show that in 2021/22 in the UK:

  • There were 914,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, 372,000 of which were new cases. 
  • Stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases.

What are the common causes of work-related stress?

The HSE has identified the six primary causes of work-related stress:

  • Demands: staff feel they cannot cope with the amount of work they are asked to do, or the type of work (eg. if they don't feel capable of carrying it out).
  • Control: staff have no say over how and when they do their work.
  • Support from managers and colleagues: staff feel they don't receive enough information and support, or cannot talk to managers about issues that are troubling them.
  • Relationships at work: staff are having trouble with relationships at work, or are being bullied.
  • Role: staff don't know what is expected of them, or understand how their work fits into the organisation's objectives.
  • Change: change isn't managed effectively and / or leads to uncertainty and insecurity.

Outside of work, common causes of stress include financial problems, relationship issues, bereavement and personal health issues.

Can stress amount to a disability?

Stress is a reaction and will not normally be an illness itself. It may, however, result in other illnesses, both mental and physical. Therefore, employers should be live to the fact that someone who appears to be stressed at work; who is taking more time off work than usual; or whose behaviour has changed in the workplace may be suffering from an underlying health problem which could be a disability. If this is the case, a failure to tackle the problem and consider reasonable adjustments risks a disability discrimination claim.

Employers therefore have an invested interest in ensuring workplace stress is managed and there is an open culture that allows employees to feel comfortable discussing their stress-related concerns. With this in mind:

How to prevent work-related stress

  • Consider having a policy covering stress at work which makes clear that you take the issue seriously and informs employees what to do if they feel stressed at work. Workbox by Brodies users can access a template policy here. Also consider the impact of other HR policies on stress, e.g. sickness absence, performance management, anti-bullying and harassment, grievance and disciplinary, flexible working and health and safety.
  • Comply with your legal obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of your employees by assessing the risk of work-related stress as part of your health and safety risk assessments. Some employers also carry out stress audits, asking employees to identify any concerns regarding work-related stress. Identifying risks and taking action to control them can help prevent stress-related issues arising. Workbox by Brodies has helpful information on preventing work-related stress.
  • Regularly monitor and manage workloads to ensure employees are not feeling overburdened. This could include organising regular team and individual catch ups. Excessive workloads can lead to increased risks of burn out, stress and anxiety – particularly if adequate support is not provided.
  • Promote a culture where employees can freely discuss stress as well as other mental wellbeing issues and create open lines of communication between employees and their line managers: early intervention can be vital. Consider adding helpful information and resources to your intranet, such as wellbeing guides, online classes, or details of trained mental health first aiders.
  • Consider what support network is in place for employees and ensure that it's well signposted. It's important to ensure that all employees are regularly reminded of the services they can access. Confidential employee assistance/counselling services can be helpful for those who do not wish to discuss their concerns with their line manager/HR. 
  • Provide training for all levels of management and HR to assist in identifying symptoms of stress and how to tackle stressors at an early stage.

More information 

For more information about anything discussed in this blog, please contact a member of our Employment & Immigration team.

Workbox by Brodies, our award-winning HR and employment law site has detailed information and resources on mental health and stress at work, including an easily adaptable template policy.