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Stress in the workplace

Working can provide our lives with structure, purpose, satisfaction, self-esteem and financial income. However, the workplace can also be a cause of stress and worry.

  • About stress at work
  • Symptoms
  • Causes
  • Stress management
  • Heland support
  • Further information
  • Sources
  • Related topics

About stress at work

We all need some pressure in our lives - it makes our work satisfying and helps us meet deadlines. But it's all about striking the right balance. Too much pressure without having the chance to recover causes stress, which can be damaging to our health.

Workplace stress is different for everyone - what is stressful for one person may not be stressful for another. It can depend on your personality type and how you have learned to respond to pressure.

Symptoms

Work-related stress can cause both physical and emotional health problems. It can cause you to be more prone to physical symptoms such as:

  • headaches
  • muscular tension
  • backache and/or neckache
  • tiredness and sleeproblems
  • digestive problems
  • a raised heart rate
  • skin rashes
  • sweating
  • blurred vision

You may also be prone to psychological symptoms such as:

  • a lower sex drive (libido) feeling that you can't cope
  • irritability and mood swings
  • disturbed eating patterns
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • feeling less motivated


How do you know if you have work-related stress?

You may have already noticed some factors contributing to the way you feel. For example, you may feel that you:

  • often rush about, trying to be in too many places at once
  • miss breaks and take work home with you
  • don't have enough time for exercise, relaxation or spending time with your family

According to a study by The Work Foundation, nearly a third of working men say that the demands of their job interfere with their private life and nearly a quarter feel that their work has caused them to neglect their children.

Causes

In a recent Health and Safety Executive survey, one in six of all working individuals in the UK reported that their job is very or extremely stressful. Work-related stress is also one of the biggest causes of sick leave.

There are a number of factors that can make you feel stressed at work, including:

  • poor working conditions
  • long working hours
  • relationships with colleagues
  • lack of job security
  • difficult journeys to and from work
  • the way the company is managed
  • mismatch between the requirements of the job and your own capabilities and needs
  • inflexible working hours
  • too much or too little responsibility

However, often there is no single cause of work-related stress. Although it can be triggered by sudden, unexpected pressures, it's often the result of a combination of stressful factors that build up over time.

Stress management

Self-help

It's impossible to escape pressure at work altogether, so you need to learn how to manage stress effectively. There are a number of ways you can reduce the negative impact of stress. Most of these involve taking a good look at how you function at work.

One of the most important factors in reducing stress levels is managing your time more effectively. Prioritise tasks, delegate where you can and make sure you don't take on more work than you can handle. Make sure you take regular breaks at work and try to finish one task before you begin another. Here are some other things that you can do yourself.

  • Make sure your work environment is comfortable. If it isn't, ask for helfrom your organisation's health and safety officer.
  • If possible, don't work long hours - sometimes projects need extra time, but working long hours over many weeks or months does not generally lead to more or better results at work.
  • Take a look at your relationships with your colleagues - do you treat each other with respect and consideration?
  • Find out if your organisation offers flexible working hours.

It's in everyone's interest to keep the workplace as stress-free as possible, and generally, organisations want to keep their employees happy and healthy. Absenteeism costs the UK £11.6bn a year, according to the Confederation of Business and Industry (CBI). If companies have good work-life policies, employees are likely to be healthier and happier and so less likely to take time off work.

If you are suffering from work-related stress, it's important to talk directly to your manager about it. Your manager has a duty to take reasonable steps to try to resolve the problem. Explain how you are feeling and discuss your workload. If you find talking about your concerns difficult, it may help to make notes during your discussion.

It's worth asking if your organisation has any policies on harassment, bullying or racism. What does your company consider acceptable? Find out how to challenge these policies from your human resources department and make sure you know what support there is for you if you decide to do this.

There are things you can do outside of work to help reduce your stress levels. These include the following.

  • Get enough exercise - this is known to reduce stress and can help you feel better. It's recommended that you do 30 minutes of exercise each day. Choose an activity you enjoy - a brisk walk is ideal.
  • Learn relaxation techniques - this can help you sleep better and relieve stress-related physical pains such as stomach pains and headaches. Ask your GP or your local library for details of classes where you can learn helpful techniques.
  • Talk about your stress with a friend or member of the family - this is a good way to get your worries off your chest. It can give you a fresh perspective and help to make stressful situations more manageable.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol or caffeine, or smoke. Instead of helping, these stimulants will increase your stress levels.
  • Eat regular meals and a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • At the end of each day, reflect on what you've achieved rather than worrying about future work. Don't be too hard on yourself and remember to take each day as it comes.

Help and support

You may need to get further help if you have already tried to solve your work-related stress and things are not getting better. This is not giving in; it's taking action.

If you work for a large organisation, it may have a dedicated occupational health department. Or, you may prefer to talk to your own GP about it.

You may be suffering from depression or have an anxiety disorder that needs treatment.

If you are diagnosed with depression, your doctor may recommend that you have counselling or prescribe a course of antidepressants. You may also need some time off work. There are courses for stress management and plenty of self-help resources available (please see Further information).

Further information

Health & Safety Executive (HSE)

Mind

Sources

  • National Statistics. www.statistics.gov.uk, accessed 7 February 2007
  • Stress-related and physiological disorders. Health & Safety Executive (HSE). www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 7 February 2007
  • Guide to Surviving Working Life. Mind (National Association for Mental Health). www.mind.org.uk, accessed 6 February 2007
  • Where's the Daddy? The UK Fathering Deficit. The Work Foundation. www.theworkfoundation.com, accessed 14 February 2007
  • Self-reported work-related illness (SW105/06). Health & Safety Executive (HSE). www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 7 February 2007
  • Psychosocial Working Conditions in Britain 2006. Health & Safety Executive (HSE). www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 14 February 2007
  • Life should be fun! International Stress Management Association. www.isma.org.uk, accessed 8 March 2007
  • Work-life balance. The Mental Health Foundation. www.mentalhealth.org.uk, accessed 8 March 2007

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