Spotting and coping with work related stress

No matter who you are, stress can have a massive impact on you and the people around you. Almost everyone will have some type of stress in their life, whether it’s from work, relationships, home life or perhaps an event or occasion.

Work-place stress can, however, be one of the most damaging as it is extremely hard to avoid with lots of people spending most of their time in the workplace.

What is stress?

HSE defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’.

Workplace stress usually occurs when a person feels they’re unable to cope with tasks that are assigned to them or the working environment. There is a responsibility on employers to make sure that a person who is asked to complete any given task is happy and comfortable to do so. It is also on the employer to make sure that the person has all of the given qualifications or skills needed to complete the task.

There are six main causes of stress which employers should manage and look into potential risks before finalising any plans. The areas are:

  • Demands
  • Control
  • Support
  • Relationships
  • Role
  • Change

Signs of stress

Stress can be extremely hard to spot as lots of people express their stress in different ways. Age, gender, experience and disability are all factors that may contribute to how someone deals with stressful situations, but people tend to hide their stress and that can lead to a potential outburst when it eventually becomes too much.

As an employer, here are a few things to look out for within your business:

  • Arguments
  • Higher staff turnover
  • More reports of stress
  • More sickness absence
  • Decreased performance
  • More complaints and grievances

If you as an employer are beginning to notice any of these creeping into the workplace it is worth setting up meetings or one to ones to help surface any issues so they can be resolved.

Stress can also fall on individuals, here are some signs that a person may be struggling with stress:

  • Take more time off
  • Arrive for work later
  • Be more twitchy or nervous
  • Mood swings
  • Being withdrawn
  • Loss of motivation, commitment and confidence
  • Increased emotional reactions – being more tearful, sensitive or aggressive

Again, if you notice any of these signs it may be worth taking some time out to make sure that they’re ok and if the cause of stress if coming from the workplace try to resolve any issues.


Dealing with stress

Managing stress is much easier said than done but there are things you can do to try and help minimise the stress you’re under. Firstly, try and find out what the source of the stress is, it may sound simple but if you know what is causing your stress it is much easier to do something about it.

Once you have identified the cause it’s important to do what you can to try and sort it and if work is causing you to stress you may need to change the environment which you work in. This could include things like making sure you take breaks, only undertaking tasks you feel comfortable with and talking to your manager or colleagues if you are unsure of what is required. You may even have to use bullying or grievance procedures if it is a particular person that is causing the stress.

Here are a few ways you can help yourself to reduce stress:

  • Try to have a good relationship with colleagues to create an open environment in which you can raise concerns.
  • Make sure you’re comfortable with your role and if a task is causing you stress, talk to others who may be able to help.
  • Take time to organise your workload and give yourself more time to complete more difficult or time-consuming tasks.
  • Say no – be comfortable with saying no if a task is too difficult or you do not have time to complete it.
  • Make sure to take your breaks and if you can get away from the office, whether that means going for a walk or just sitting outside / in your car.
  • Maintain a healthy work/life balance. Do not let work consume your life. Try to make time to do things you enjoy.
  • Try to learn how to not stress over factors you have no control over and look for a positive outcome in all situations.


Dealing with stress on your own isn’t easy though and airing your feelings might be difficult but one other are aware it is a big step to going in the right direction. It’s not just your responsibility though and employers and colleagues should be looking out for anyone that might be showing signs of stress and do what they can to help.

If you have noticed someone in your workplace showing signs of stress it’s important to try and talk to them, asking if they’re ok or what you can do to help could be the nudge they need to open up and talk about the issues they’re having and from that point, you can work to fixing or reducing some of the causes.