Ten tips on managing stress at work

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. Some people benefit from a certain amount of pressure as it can keep them motivated. However, when there is too much pressure it can lead to stress.

Stress is not an illness, but it can affect a person’s physical and mental health.

Acas has published new advice for employers on managing work-related stress, following a survey in March 2023 which revealed that one-third of workers believe their organisation is not effective at managing stress at work. It also showed that 63% of employees felt stressed owing to the rising cost of living.

If one of your employees is experiencing work-related stress, what should you do?

Here are ten ways to help:

1 Support

Life events can be stressful. Bereavement, divorce, menopause and poor health may impact your employees’ physical and mental health. Your people do not have to tell you about their personal problems. But if they do, consider:

  • Counselling services, such as an employee assistance programme.
  • Paid or unpaid time off to attend appointments.
  • Time off, such as annual leave or unpaid leave.
  • A temporary change in duties or working patterns to allow for changes in home life.

2 Talking

It is important to talk about stress and create an open and honest environment at work. This can help employees to talk about how they are feeling, and to get the support they need. Ensure that your leaders are sensitive and supportive when talking to staff about work-related stress.

When a manager becomes aware that someone is experiencing stress, they should arrange an informal chat in private. They should:

  • make time for the meeting in the working day
  • be open-minded about how the person might be feeling
  • ask open questions
  • listen to what they are being told
  • try to identify the cause of the stress
  • work together on possible solutions.

Managers should support their employees by signposting any internal or external specialist help if needed

3 Confidentiality

Reassure your employees that you will not share anything they tell you with anyone outside HR and specialist advisors. But if there is a good reason to do so, you should be clear about who you will share it with and why.

4 Keep in touch

When an employee is off work with stress, you should maintain a reasonable amount of contact with them.

Regular contact can benefit an employee by:

  • preventing isolation
  • supporting them while off sick
  • helping them to return to work.

Remember to agree with your employee how often you will keep in touch so that you do not overwhelm them. Agree who will contact them and what method they will use. Review the agreement to ensure that it is still helping. Don’t forget to inform them of any redundancies, reorganisations or other significant work news.

5 Return to work meeting

Talk to your employee when they return to work after time off with work-related stress.

The meeting is a good opportunity:

  • to make sure the employee is ready to return to work
  • to see whether they need any support
  • to agree a plan for returning to work, if appropriate, a phased return to work
  • to review or do a stress risk assessment
  • to talk about any work updates that happened while they were off.

Using a Wellness Action Plan from Mind can help a manager to talk to their employee about the causes of the stress. This can help the employer reduce the risk that the employee may need more time off.

Other things to discuss could include:

  • The signs of poor mental health.
  • What the employee should do if they become unwell, for example, who to contact.
  • What support or adjustments they might need.

6 Making adjustments at work

If an employee is disabled their employer must make reasonable adjustments

If an employee is experiencing work-related stress but is not disabled, the employer should still talk with them about adjustments that might help. Often, it’s enough to agree simple changes to working arrangements or responsibilities with the employee.

This might include:

  • Flexible working hours.
  • Allowing more rest breaks.
  • Giving someone different responsibilities.
  • Helping them to prioritise their workload.
  • Providing training or mentoring.

When making any adjustments, managers should:

review them regularly to check that they are effective
consider how to support the rest of the team so that they are not overloaded.

7 Create an action plan

One way to reduce work-related stress for an employee is to create an action plan.

This should include:

  • What the problem is.
  • The proposed solution.
  • What actions to take to achieve the solution.
  • The dates by which to achieve each action.
  • A date to review the plan and see if it has achieved its aim.

8 Preventing work-related stress

To create a positive environment at work and help prevent work-related stress, you should:

  • have a clear policy on mental health and stress
  • address the causes of stress through risk assessments and employee surveys
  • encourage people to raise their concerns – for example, if a person feels they are being discriminated against
  • provide training for managers – for example, on managing conflict, change and work-related stress
  • support employees – for example, listening to concerns and acting on them quickly
  • promote a work-life balance – for example, encouraging employees to use their breaks and take holidays
  • provide employees with access to support – for example, an employee assistance programme or training on stress management techniques.

9 Help employees look after themselves

To look after their health and well-being at work, employees should:

  • raise their awareness of what might be causing them stress
  • take steps to reduce their stress levels – for example, taking regular breaks or getting outside on a lunch break
  • tell you, their employer, when they’re experiencing stress at work and ask for help – managers should know where to go for advice and support
  • make use of support and training that you offer.

10 Additional support

The support employers offer might include:

  • A mental health peer support programme.
  • Employee support network.
  • Occupational health.

Source: Acas – Managing work-related stress