Tackling work related stress

Tackling Work-Related Stress: Where to Start?

It’s widely known that stress is harmful to both our mental and physical health (at least in the levels commonly experienced in modern-day workplaces), yet figures continue to show increases in work stress over the past few years. Last year, 37% of organisations reported an increase in stress-related absence over the previous 12 months (CIPD 2018 Health & Wellbeing at Work report).

Assessing stress levels and responding appropriately is not just a legal requirement for organisations – there are countless studies highlighting its far-reaching impact on absence, retention, productivity and more. Take, for example, the HSE report revealing that over 15 million days were lost to work-related stress in the UK during the year 2017-18. Or the findings that 66% of workers lose sleep over work stress, and for 16% this leads to quitting a job.

Knowing where to start in tackling work stress can be a challenge, whether for yourself or for those you employ. Sometimes, causes may be obvious – the CIPD reported the primary causes of work-related stress to be unmanageable workloads and management style. But when things aren’t so clear, or when it seems unfeasible to alter these things, it can help to consider five key areas to identify what needs to change.

Energy. Perhaps the simplest area to change at an individual level. Think regular exercise (endorphins!), healthy diet, sleep, taking breaks and maintaining boundaries. Exercise may not always sound appealing — after all, stress drains our energy — but it’s worth it.


Future Focus. When we’re feeling stretched, it can be challenging to think ahead, past whatever immediate pressure we’re dealing with.  But looking beyond it can put it in perspective: Thinking about where you want to get to, or your purpose, is the root cause of your stress helping or hindering you? Is it even worth your concern?


Inner Drive. Maintaining self-belief during difficult times is crucial for keeping up motivation and the ability to persevere. Unfortunately, stress can eat away at this, dwindling our inner resources and filling us with self-doubt. Remind yourself that the negative voices are just that—voices—and do not reflect your true ability to handle things.


Flexible Thinking. Having a positive and open mindset means we are less likely to interpret circumstances as stressful. Once stress has taken hold, though, it can cause us to close off and enter self-preservation mode, leaving us less willing to take risks and embrace new ideas. Whenever possible, try to take a step back and find a way to reframe a potentially stressful situation—what is really going on, and is it so bad?


Strong Relationships. Having support to turn to in times of stress can make a world of difference. But stress itself can cause us to turn inwards, shutting off from others and the outside world. Having built a supportive, trusting network of relationships then becomes all the more important, as these people can notice when we are struggling and help to bring us out the other side.


These five areas can tackle stress from two directions. Not only do they reduce the impact of existing stress but, perhaps more importantly in the long run, they bolster against feeling stressed in the first place. Each area also has a cyclical relationship with stress: strengthening it equips individuals to be more resilient to stress, which in turn strengthens it further, and so on. So once you start attending to these areas, you are really setting yourself up for success – and it should only get easier.


For further information on how to manage work-related stress in your organisation, please contact Catherine at Catherine@aspirehr.co.uk