Tackling stress in the workplace

Millions of working days are lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. How can employers help to tackle stress in the workplace?

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that 17.1 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2022/23. What role can employers play in supporting the mental health of staff?


What is stress?

Stress is not a mental health condition, but severe or persistent stress can lead to mental health problems. We all need a certain amount of stress in life to function and perform well; without it, we would be bored and unmotivated. However, it’s important to be able to manage stress in healthy, effective ways.

If we don’t, it can lead to burnout, which the World Health Organisation has recognised as a ‘syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. This is where mental health difficulties can start, where the person might not be able to switch off, is unable to sleep and/or experiences self-doubt.


What are the signs of stress?

We all manage stress differently and all have different tolerance of stress, based on many factors including genetics, our own life experiences and what else is happening in our lives right now. When we don’t manage the stress, we may:

  • become angry or irritable
  • find it hard to concentrate or make decisions
  • be tearful, tired or withdrawn
  • avoid social contact
man sitting at a laptop with head in his hands

As an employer, these are some of the signs of stress that you should be looking out for. Some people are very good at masking – they appear to be coping very well – and then one small thing will lead them to feeling overwhelmed.


What can you do if you spot the signs?

If you spot any of these signs in an employee, it can be helpful to have an informal chat. This can help you understand how the person is feeling and what support they need. Getting help at this stage could prevent more serious problems developing. 


What can cause workplace stress?

The Health and Safety Executive has identified six areas that can lead to work-related stress if they are not managed properly. Putting these in context, a worker might say that they:

  • Aren’t able to cope with the demands of the job.
  • Aren’t able to control the way they do their work.
  • Don’t receive enough information and support.
  • Are having troubles with relationships at work, or being bullied.
  • Don’t fully understand their role and responsibilities.
  • Aren’t engaged when a business is undergoing change.


Woman with head in hands and eyes closed

Taking action

If you find that the worker is experiencing stress as a result of their work, it’s useful to complete a stress risk assessment with them to really understand the cause and what preventative measures you can put in place. This can also be used with staff who have been absent due to work-related stress. The Health and Safety Executive has some useful ‘stress talking toolkits’ which are based around the six areas listed above.

Of course, stress can often be related to issues outside work. Do ask if there is anything going on outside work that is causing them stress. Providing a listening ear can sometimes be all someone needs to feel better and more in control.

In this blog post, Kirsty from the Charlie Waller Trust shares her experience of severe stress in a previous workplace.


Supporting Staff with Stress

Our Charlie Waller Workplace experts run training courses and webinars on a wide range of mental health topics - and we have a workshop specifically designed to help managers respond to staff members experiencing workplace stress. 

The workshop is specifically designed to enable managers to spot the signs, have an open conversation and help prevent stress.

Using an engaging film based on both managers’ and employees’ lived experience of stress, the workshop will:

  • Increase your skills and confidence in recognising stress in staff and supporting them
  • Provide clear guidance on responding when employees are feeling stressed
  • Give you practical tools you can start using immediately, including a takeaway guide

The workshop costs £99 per person. To find out more and book your place, please email jo.lea@charliewaller.org.