According to research from the HSE, stress now accounts for nearly 40% of all work-related illness. It’s a subject that has been somewhat taboo up until recent years and is thankfully something people are slowly starting to talk about. But how can we identify workplace stress? And what is the difference between harmful stress and general pressures at work? Here, Risk Advisor, Simon Fabian explains and gives his advice on the best ways to help your workforce stay healthy and happy.


“Although a buzzword in recent years, workplace stress is not a new thing – it has been prevalent since modern times began with demanding work environments such as coal mines and factories causing extreme stress amongst their workers. Once an unspoken subject, it’s powerful and positive that businesses and their employees are now opening up about stress, anxiety, and their mental health.


“Recognising the difference between stress and pressure is key. Pressure is usually present in most people’s working lives and it is important for us to understand that this can sometimes be a healthy thing. Pressure to succeed can ignite passion, help us to reach deadlines, and draw teams together to achieve great results. Disagreements and challenges are a healthy indicator of an ambitious and engaged team – they are a huge part of business success!


“Stress at work, on the other hand, more often than not comes down to the management of employees. Lack of support, breakdowns in communication, negative relationships, work overload or too little work, and sudden business changes can all be large contributors. Stress should be managed from the top-down and directors should lead by example, communicating issues and working flexibly and smartly to avoid stress.


“One of the largest causes of stress – external factors – may be harder for bosses to manage. Employees’ family, relationships, money, and health worries are hard to control, can drastically add to workplace stress, and have a huge impact on mindset, work rate, and attitude.


“Empower your staff – managers should always provide a supportive and understanding environment where staff can make decisions without the fear factor of making an error and given the recognition they deserve for their success. This doesn’t mean ill-considered or lazy mistakes are tolerated, but as long as there is a good reason for the action, and they aware of their own limitations, they should not be disciplined


“Remember time and communication are your biggest assets – If possible within a business, there should also be an option of flexible working hours. Talking with employees is essential! If you identify stress within your workforce, quickly unearth what the problem is and communicate a proposed plan of action. Keep staff informed throughout the process until the issue is resolved. Each person is different and should be treated so.


“Here are some excellent ways to spot the signs of stress from ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service):

  • changes in the person’s usual behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues
  • changes in the standard of their work or focus on tasks
  • appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and reduced interest in tasks they previously enjoyed
  • changes in appetite and/or increase in smoking and drinking alcohol
  • an increase in sickness absences and/or turning up late to work


“Identifying and tackling workplace stress holds benefits for not just staff, but also employers as put by the HSE it “reduces sickness absence, boosts morale and helps improve productivity” – all essential factors when looking to grow a successful business.”