The growth of work-related stress: What can you do about it?

Tuesday September 1, 2020

If coronavirus is the word on everybody’s lips, then ‘work-related stress’ can’t be far behind. While many people were talking about it already, it’s likely that the pandemic has only made stress at work even more prevalent.

The ups and downs of remote working

For those businesses with the ability to do so, remote working was introduced and it seems to have been an effective solution. In terms of significant change, it has certainly been a big one.

For many it has been welcome. Hours and hours spent commuting each day have been swapped for more time with the family. But now the dust has settled, remote working has brought in other challenges, some of them unforeseen.

Remote working has now put technology and work at the centre of the home. There is an ‘always on’ culture that make it hard to relax. Parents have realised, some for the first time, that juggling childcare and home-schooling while trying to work full-time in the room next door, though not impossible, is easier said than done.

As temperatures soared, a good night’s sleep was harder to come by. It made that following day feel that little bit tougher. In July, we felt temperatures top 36C in parts of the UK.

Who can forget when nobody was allowed outside for longer than it took to exercise or buy food? Unprecedented times indeed.

Is this the new normal?

Now, while certain industries look set to continue home working for the foreseeable future, others have made a cautious return to offices, retail, hospitality, and construction. In September, children will be going back to school, whether their parents would like them to or not.

It has been an especially hard time for people trying to manage their physical and mental health in the depths of a pandemic. Naturally, your employees may be asking – what can be done about our work-related stress?

It’s a health and safety issue

Work-related stress is officially classed as a health and safety issue. It is the legal duty of the employer to protect their employees from stress at work.

The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”.

You should be aware of your employees’ skills and knowledge and match demands to them accordingly. Good planning, training, and ongoing support can all help to mitigate this pressure and reduce employee stress levels. A lack of feedback has been shown to contribute. Regularly checking with employees can help them to feel less isolated.

Stress risk assessments

All businesses should carry out a stress risk assessment, but you only need to write it down if you employ more than five people. However, you may find it helpful to write it down even if you employ fewer than five.

A useful framework is the HSE’s six key areas of work design to consider when managing workplace stress. You can build your risk assessment around: demands, control, support, relationships, role, and change.

Working through these will help you take a complete approach, looking at who might be harmed, what you already do to guard against it, and any further action that is required.

The earlier a problem is identified, the less serious it should become. As we have highlighted, 2020 will have been a particularly stressful year for many, so existing risk assessments probably need reviewing.

It’s important to bear in mind that stress is not an illness, but it can make you ill. It’s something which affects everyone differently. What one person finds stressful might be stimulating for another. Encouraging employees to talk to someone can help. It is recommended that line managers are trained to hold simple, yet practical, conversations with their team members.

More help is available

For bespoke mental health advice, get in touch with us today. We also offer a distinctive range of eLearning courses to help you manage the challenges around stress and mental health awareness as well as other topics.


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