How to tackle stress in the workplace


Article provided by Sarah Kirk, Global Diversity & Inclusion Director, PageGroup UK

With mental wellbeing and stress awareness reaching more deeply into the public consciousness than ever before, the next natural consideration is how we approach these in the workplace. Mental health problems, including stress, affect one in seven workers in the UK – and the TUC has called work-related stress a ‘growing epidemic’. Without giving these matters the necessary consideration, employers could find themselves being part of the problem – rather than the solution.

Recent research commissioned by global recruitment experts Michael Page highlighted that half of women in the UK (50 per cent) have had a job which they believe has had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.

In addition to that, two thirds of female employees have left or considered leaving a job as a result of its negative impact on their mental wellbeing.

As shocking as those statistics are, I fear that they are set to rise. The same research revealed that 50 per cent of women think the workplace is more stressful than it was five years ago, with just one in 10 believing it has become less stressful. As we enter a period of global change, from uncertainties around Brexit to seismic changes in technology with the rise of algorithms and AI, it’s only natural that the workplace will change and absorb some of those external stresses too.

However, as we mark International Stress Awareness Week, we must recognise that this juncture also presents an opportunity for businesses to embrace the needs of their employees, starting with developing a considered approach to stress and wellbeing in the workplace.

While the majority of employees (57 per cent) feel there is a better understanding of mental health than there was five years ago, that still leaves a lot to be desired. Seven out of 10 (70 per cent) female workers stated that employers should do more to improve their understanding of mental health in the workplace.

There is no one size fits all approach to stress and mental health in the workplace; it is not governed by legislation or workers’ rights. However, understanding and education are key. That applies at all levels of seniority throughout a workplace too – after all, these issues occur indiscriminately.

Education can take many forms but investing the time in doing so can present significant benefits to business. This is most vital amongst line managers and those who have a direct responsibility for employees.

If an employee is suffering from workplace stress, their line manager is highly likely to be the person they inform. Starting this dialogue will no doubt be a big step for the employee, so it is imperative that the manager is equipped to respond appropriately.

However, Michael Page’s research shows that one in five employees felt misunderstood (18 per cent) and no better off (21 per cent) upon talking to their manager about their mental health. Put simply, this must change.

Line managers require education on stress and mental health, recognising and responding to concerns, and taking those conversations forward – it is just as essential as task-based training or people management skills.

Work-related stress is a serious issue facing businesses today, but with the right action employers can help to prevent its growth.

*Research conducted by Michael Page, May 2018. Based on 1,000 UK-based respondents.

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