It’s no secret that the nature and quality of our working lives can have a huge impact on our well-being. So, when the quality of someone’s working life drops significantly, negative consequences like workplace stress are bound to arise.

Referred to as “the health epidemic of the twenty-first century” by the World Health Organisation (WHO), stress can have devastating consequences – to both individuals and the businesses they’re a part of.

In this blog post, we explore what workplace stress is, who it affects, how it affects them, and the toll that businesses pay when they don’t take steps to manage and minimise the stress of their workforce.

What is workplace stress?

Workplace stress, or work-related stress, describes the harmful physical and mental effects caused by a lack of resources, support, tools, or infrastructure needed by employees to do their jobs.

Stress is distinct from pressure. Many of us rely on pressure to motivate us to complete a piece of work or make a tight deadline. But when the pressure becomes relentless, and the demands of a job mean a worker cannot relieve this pressure or attempt to recover, they can start to experience stress.

To better identify, minimise, and resolve workplace stress, the Health and Safety Executive has defined and standardised it.

The HSE defines stress as “the adverse reaction a person has to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them”. Workplace stress occurs when a business fails to take care of a person working for them and protect them from stress-causing factors.

It’s not confined to just the working environment either, workplace stress is a chronic, debilitating issue that affects all aspects of a person’s life. It can lead to poor mental and physical health and even injury. And it’s not just the individuals who suffer, businesses suffer too, as it’s been linked to longer and more frequent absences, lower productivity and presenteeism, and difficulties in retention.

How is it caused?

Under UK law, employers have a ‘duty of care’ to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all employees while at work. This involves assessing the risks arising from hazards at work, which includes workplace stress.

For businesses to identify potential causes, the HSE has identified six key risk factors:

  1. The demands of the job
  2. How much control a person has over their work or workplace
  3. The level of support available
  4. Relationships within the business
  5. An individual’s understanding of their role within the organisation
  6. How the organisation manages change.

There’s a lot to explore here, but let’s look at control, briefly. This has come to the fore in recent years since the fallout of Covid-19 and the rise of working-from-home or hybrid working.

When someone feels like they have no control or say in their work life, this can result in feelings of stress. For example: if someone has been working successfully from home throughout lockdown, they may find it difficult to accept and adapt to being told they must work exclusively at the office.

In this example, because of the organisation’s rigid policy, the individual might feel frustrated, resentful, and stressed because they have no control over how they perform their work. In this case, the organisation is responsible for the person’s increased levels of workplace stress.

How does workplace stress affect a business?

Workplace stress is not only bad news for the individuals suffering the effects, the businesses that they’re part of – the ones who may be contributing to the stressful environment – suffer too.

A common outcome in cases of workplace stress is burnout, which occurs when the stress reaches a critical point. The WHO describes burnout as “a syndrome which results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” An individual experiencing burnout can become physically and mentally unwell.

From a business perspective, this can lead to a workforce that’s plagued with long-term absence, poor health and sustained periods of low productivity.

According to Deloitte, burnout can cost employers as much as 8.3% of an employee’s salary. Based on the UK’s average salary, UK employers are losing roughly £2,597 for every person in their workforce who’s experiencing burnout.[1]

Unfortunately, workplace stress and burnout are not particularly rare. 89% of UK organisations reported an increase in presenteeism, where people continued to work despite being unwell or too stressed to perform to their normal standards of performance. It is thought that this costs UK employers up to £45 billion each year.[2]

Unless businesses take steps to manage and minimise instances of workplace stress, they will also struggle with attracting new talent because of their poor reputation. They may also find it difficult to retain quality talent because of challenging or stress-inducing working conditions.

It’s simple, really: happy, productive people further a company’s vision.

Disconnected, stressed out, and unhappy people barely have it in them to turn up to work, let alone push a business forward into the future.

How can businesses minimise instances of workplace stress?

The good news is there are plenty of ways to minimise and even resolve the catastrophic impact of workplace stress on both individuals and businesses.

Prevention is by far the best solution, and this is the approach that Humanity HR takes when supporting a business with a stress-busting strategy. Businesses must focus on three key areas:

  1. Awareness – Become aware of what’s going on with your people, what the hidden issues could be, and identify any potential risks.
  2. Relationships – Forge or re-establish relationships with your people based on trust, reflection, and honest open communication. Ask people what’s going on and listen.
  3. Support – Ensure genuine actionable support is on hand. Get to the bottom of what support would have the biggest impact on the workforce.

Ultimately, the benefits of minimising, resolving, and preventing workplace stress aren’t just about making it easier for people to live and work. It’s better for the business too.

Taking steps to reduce the likelihood of workplace stress is a smart commercial decision. By happy coincidence, it just so happens to be the approach that feels the best on a personal level too!

The most successful businesses have happy, productive people who have been given the right support, resources, and respect. They’re not just working for you; they’re working with you.

Next time we will look at workplace stress, burnout, and how you can build powerful, preventative strategies as a business to support your people and get the very best from them in return. In the meantime, please do get in touch to explore how Humanity HR can help you identify and resolve your workplace stress challenges.

[1] Deloitte Press Release, Jan 2020:­cles/poor-mental-health-costs-uk-employers-up-to-pound-45-billion-a-year.html

[2] Health and well-being at work, CIPD Mar 2020