Stress as an employment risk – how can we mitigate this?

Published: 14/04/2021
Author: Leigh McKay, Mental Health and Wellbeing Consultant, WorkWise Wellbeing Solutions

Practical managerial insight to support National Stress Awareness Month

The Health and Safety Executive regards occupational stress as a major employment risk. In 2020, of British adults in employment – a staggering 79% commonly experience work-related stress and over 11 million days a year are lost annually to this.

“Occupational stress”: The ongoing or progressing stress an employee experiences due to the responsibilities, conditions, environment, or other pressures of the workplace.

For the most part stress can be good, encouraging us to perform at our optimum capacity. When experienced negatively, it impacts productivity, the overall wellbeing of employees and ultimately the business.

There are multiple contributors to workplace stress and the solution is not always straightforward however, implementing effective management skills is key consideration.

Who is responsible for managing stress at work?

Responsibility of managing stress lies with the employee to recognise signs but also bring workplace contributors to their managers attention. The challenge is when one is significantly impacted by stress, noticing signs and having that self-awareness is not always easy.

To this end, managers have a central role and are well positioned to notice signs and proactively help. This requires a level of knowing your people, stress awareness and being conscious of individual management style. The CIPD, IOSH and Affinity developed a competence framework useful in identifying positive and negative management behaviours.

Some of these include:

  1. Respectful and responsible: managing emotions and having integrity
  2. Managing and communicating existing and future work
  3. Reasoning and managing conflict and difficult issues
  4. Managing individuals within the team

The managerial role is one that already includes high levels of pressure, let alone having to focus on stress management. Instead of keeping stress management separate, incorporating this into ones approach and making it part of everyday practice can have a positive impact.

What are the common workplace stressors?

Woman stressed at work with head in hands with laptop and papers on the desk in front

Identifying common workplace stressors within departments is helpful and should be integrated into everyday management practice. The following categories have been identified by the HSE as common management standards to consider:

  1. Demand: Workload and the work environment
  2. Control: What autonomy a person has in the way they do their work
  3. Role: Being clear about roles and overall contribution
  4. Support: Having sufficient resources in place
  5. Relationship: Avoiding conflict and dealing with any unacceptable behaviour
  6. Change: Managing and communicating any change within the organisation

Stress is often a by-product of the working environment. Being unaware of the stress contributors means not being able to alter or gauge the situation.

What are the stress signs to look out for?

Some of the common workplace signs to be aware of:

  1. Change in behaviour: Apathy, withdrawal, aggression.
  2. Change in physical appearance: Looking tired; dishevelled appearance, keeping cameras off.
  3. Change in performance: Poor decision making, errors, lack of team contribution.
  4. Absence: Illness and not attending work.

Identifying stress signals increases opportunity to be counteractive and actions can be taken to reduce escalation.

Stress and Mental Health

It is important to note that stress is not a mental illness. Stress is something we all experience and we all experience it differently. The Stress Vulnerability Model (Zubin and Spring) shows us that we all have a degree of vulnerability that can put us at risk of developing mental health difficulty. Vulnerability is preceded by genetics, trauma, abuse, loss, neglect, unmanaged stress… The greater the vulnerability factor the greater the risk. Unmanaged stress can be linked to depression, anxiety, psychosis and PTSD.

Taking steps to counteract the negative effects of stress can create a positive work environment, increasing employee’s levels of job satisfaction, wellbeing, and overall efficiency of the business.


Through Engage4 we offer a mobile solution that can help manage workplace stress. Features such as the check-in pulse allows management to monitor and understand the feeling of the workforce. Providing relevant and useful content that covers a wide area of wellbeing matters: from mental and emotional health to keeping a work/life balance.

The app allows you to provide business updates and insights, share success and recognise individuals. It facilitates those familiar day-to-day ‘work chats’ – and provides a real sense of inclusion. Vitally helping your people feel connected to your workplace. Learn more about how Engage4 can help you Connect, Onboard, Unite and Retain your workforce.

WorkWise Wellness Solutions promotes sustainable wellbeing initiatives within organisations and communities, including running Mental Health First Aid training. We are proud to be partnering with Vidatec to providing exclusive wellbeing content for Engage4, their workplace engagement platform.