It seems that we’re in the middle of a stress epidemic. Every year around three-quarters of the UK population are stressed to the point where they feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. In the workplace, HSE figures report 882,000 incidences of stress, anxiety and depression during 2020 and 2021.
Pre-pandemic data shows around 17.5 million working days are lost each year due to mental health related absence which indicates there’s a need to make some changes.
What causes workplace stress?
The two biggest causes of stress in the workplace are interpersonal; relationships and workload, although other factors also play a role. Occupations in health, teaching and customer services all have a higher incident of reported stress and anxiety. Additionally, there appears to be some correlation between company size and poor mental health. So if you’re not coping well or are concerned about a colleague you’re not alone.
What is workplace stress?
The ongoing stigma around mental health and stress continues to be part of the problem. We’ve all had colleagues boast about how stressed they are. It’s become a socially acceptable way to show that you’re dedicated to your job because you work long hours sustained by black coffee.
What hasn’t gained the same social acceptance are the symptoms of poor mental health. In reality, stress shows itself in different ways and the impact on individuals won’t always be the same. For example, workplace stress might show itself as anger, negativity, exhaustion, poor performance or a high absence rate.
Just as there are a number of causes of stress there are ways to improve emotional wellbeing for yourself and for your organisation as a whole.
Talk to someone
Sharing your feelings is absolutely the starting point and if a colleague is looking for support make sure that you are ready to listen. If your workplace has a mental health first aider then make use of their training.
Enjoying your job and working hard is great but make sure that you give yourself enough time to rest as well. Finishing work at a reasonable time will give you a chance to rest and ensure that you can continue to deliver. Be mindful of issues like an increasing workload and how this might impact your ability to cope. On a similar note, take breaks during the day and if you’re a manager or team leader set a good example.
Assess the situation
It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that nothing can be done about work capacity and other stressors. Your manager may have no idea that you and the rest of the team are struggling to keep up. Annual stress risk assessments help with this and employers do have a legal requirement to carry them out. Additionally, if there are more than five employees then they need to make a record of the results. It doesn’t need to be a big exercise but if your organisation hasn’t run one before then getting a hand from a health and safety expert is a good idea. It will put a process in place that can be used for the future.
Look out for each other
As an individual keep an eye on your colleagues and practice kindness. If they don’t complete a piece of work as expected rather than complaining consider if they are ok. Remember an angry outburst might be a sign that they feel under pressure and are struggling to cope.