With 4 out of 10 sick days taken in the UK being stress-related, many employees are reluctant to talk about their own stress levels for fear of being seen as weak by admitting that they are struggling.

To coincide with this week’s National Stress Awareness Day, we take a look at the main causes of stress in the workplace and offer pragmatic solutions to each problem.

What is stress?

The first thing to be aware of is that stress is not an illness in itself; it’s the psychological impact that stress has on us that can lead to conditions such as anxiety and depression which in turn can increase the risk of conditions such as heart disease, back pain, gastrointestinal illnesses or skin conditions.

The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) has identified the six primary causes of work-related stress, so we look at each of those causes and suggest pragmatic solutions to tackle each one.

The six main culprits of stress in the workplace and how to approach them:

1. The demands of the job: stress levels can easily rise when employees feel overloaded or feel they can’t cope with the amount of work they are asked to do

What you can do: Create an environment where employees feel empowered to raise their concerns without prejudice.  Lead by example; ensure every employee has a designated time with their manager each week to agree on priorities and encourage every employee to speak out if they are feeling overwhelmed.

2. Amount of control over work: employees can feel disaffected and perform poorly if they have no say over how and when they do their work

What you can do: Consider creating a flexible work policy in your organisation that supports your employees to manage the demands of their career and their family responsibilities at the same time.  This can either be a temporary or permanent arrangement

3. Lack of support from managers: levels of sickness absence often rise if employees feel they cannot talk to managers about the issues that are troubling them

What you can do:  Train your people managers to build their confidence to have these conversations with their direct reports. Encourage open forum meetings where employees can talk about how stress impacts them and encourage knowledge sharing amongst employees. Creating a working environment that proactively supports staff suffering the effects of stress means that employees will find it much easier for them to speak out

4. Poor work relationships: a failure to build firm relationships based on trust in an organisation can lead to a culture of poor communication

What you can do: Lead by example; if the leaders of the organisation are supportive of the effects of stress and if appropriate, are happy to share their own experiences, this will have a positive effect on company culture and give a positive message to all employees

employees will naturally feel anxious if they are not clear on what’s expected of them or understand how their work fits into the objectives of the organisation

5.  Lack of understanding how a role fits within an organisation: employees will naturally feel anxious if they are not clear on what’s expected of them or understand how their work fits into the objectives of an organisation

What you can do: Create personal development plans with clear objectives that directly feed into the company’s overall vision.  Review plans regularly and ensure everyone in your organisation is absolutely clear on what is expected of them and how their input contributes towards the company’s success

6. Change management: very few enjoy change, leaving employees feeling insecure and uncertain about the future

What you can do: Be upfront and honest. If the company isn’t achieving its targets, lead from the front and communicate the situation clearly, backing up the message with the strategies you are putting in place to get back on track

Often small, simple changes will make a big difference but if you need support to create a stress management strategy for your business, call us on 01256 328 428.