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How can I help my employees manage stress in the workplace?

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Almost everyone experiences some stress at work from time to time; however, prolonged stress can have an adverse effect on the health of your employees and your business. You, as an employer, have a legal duty to protect your employees’ health and safety, which includes the health risks associated with workplace stress. Thus, in honour of the fact that April is Stress Awareness month, our Employment Law team here discusses the effects of workplace stress and how employers can help their employees manage it.

What is work related stress?

The Health and Safety Executive differentiates between pressure and stress.  Pressure can be a useful motivator that drives employees to accomplish tasks or meet a deadline.  Stress, on the other hand, is “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them.”  

Stress at work can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Volume of work;
  • Relationships with co-workers;
  • Management style;
  • Deadlines;
  • Changes in the workplace.

Stress can also be brought into the workplace when stress caused by something going on in an employee’s personal or family life affects their ability to focus on their job.  An employee who was initially stressed due to a non-work related reason may then find themselves stressed over their workload or job performance.  In this way, the employee’s stress levels can quickly spiral and become worse.

How can stress affect my employees?

Prolonged workplace stress is bad for your employees and is bad for your business.  Employees who suffer from prolonged workplace stress are less likely to be productive when at work, and are more likely to go on long term sick leave.  Stress can negatively impact your employees’ physical and mental health in a variety of ways, with physical symptoms of workplace stress including:

  • fatigue,
  • trouble sleeping,
  • headaches,
  • upset stomach, and
  • loss of appetite.

Employees may also be more irritable, causing a strain on their relationships with co-workers and clients.  Employees who suffer from stress may turn to alcohol or other substances to help them cope. Though not an illness itself, stress can also contribute to other physical or mental illnesses such as heart disease or depression.

What can employers do?

How you help your employees manage stress will depend on your workplace.  However, it is always a good strategy to try and prevent workplace stress and deal with it early if it does occur.  You should conduct a risk assessment of each role at your workplace in order to identify potential sources of stress and take steps to minimise or eliminate them.  Ensure that employees are properly trained and supported in their roles, especially when an employee is promoted to a new role or has taken on new responsibilities. You may also want to have a policy in place that sets out your approach to workplace stress and informs employees of the resources available to them.

You should also have conversations with your employees and check in with them regularly.  Try and foster a culture at work where employees feel they can approach you or their manager if they feel overwhelmed.  Ensure that you and your management team know how to recognise the signs of stress, including:

  • a decline in work performance;
  • lack of holiday use/planning;
  • spending a lot of time at work;
  • the employee is more sensitive or argumentative;
  • tiredness;
  • increase in smoking or drinking;
  • headaches or upset stomach; and
  • short temper / bullying other colleagues.

If an employee exhibits signs which indicate they are experiencing work related stress, or if they disclose that they are stressed, you may consider reducing their workload or providing additional training and support.  If stress has started to affect the employee’s health and wellbeing you should also consider referring them to Occupational Health or a counselling service.  

If you have questions about your responsibilities in relation to managing employees’ stress, or if you would like help with drafting a stress at work policy, contact our Employment Team on 023 8071 7717 or email  To find out more about managing the mental health of your employees, you can book a place at our upcoming Mental Health Masterclass on 1st June.

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This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.