Managing Work-Related Stress

The average person spends a third of their life at work.  Therefore, it is important that a work-place provides a safe, non-stressful environment for its employees (as a minimum). Of course, ideally it would be stimulating, motivating, and enjoyable as well.

So what can you do if your work-place becomes a source of anxiety instead of simply somewhere to get on with your job? Are there ways to become more resilient so you are better resourced to cope when situations become stressful?  How do you deal with a co-worker or customer whose behaviour can only be described as bullying?

The UK Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) formal definition of work-related stress is, “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed on them at work.”  It is important to remember that everyone is different and factors such as personality, background, culture and particular personal circumstances also contribute to how resilient we are to stress.

Work-related stress can affect people in many ways. Signs and symptoms of employee stress include:

    • Becoming more tearful or angry than usual
    • Feeling that you cannot cope with situations
    • An inability to concentrate
    • Feeling depressed
    • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
    • Choosing to isolate yourself
    • Feeling disappointed with yourself

So what can you do to protect yourself from the harmful effects of work-related stress?

Clinical Psychologist, Dr Kirsten Keown, advises that it is important to prioritise basic self-care, even if you feel that you do not have the time.  Make sure you continue to eat well, exercise, get adequate rest and sleep and spend quality time relaxing with family and friends.

If you are stressed at work, Dr Keown also recommends that you try to get to the bottom of what is causing you to feel this way.  She goes on to say, “A lack of control over outcomes is a major contributor to stress. Try and work out a way to gain more control over outcomes related to your position.  Sit down with a colleague or your manager and brainstorm different ideas.  Perhaps tasks can be completed in a different manner or deadlines extended.  However, make sure that if you are discussing things with your manager to come prepared with well-thought out solutions to the problems you are highlighting”.

An additional level of stress

One of the most distressing causes of work-related stress is where a person is subjected to bullying or harassment, either by a colleague, manager or even a customer.  It is important to note that harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

Bullying however, is more difficult to define because it can take on so many forms. It can range from public humiliation and belittling through to snide comments and withholding work-related information.  However, there is no doubt as to the effect it has on the person subjected to the behaviour.  Work-related bullying can lead to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, depression and in extreme cases even suicide.

So what steps can you take to manage a situation where you feel you are the victim of bullying?  “Start with an informal approach.  If someone is acting in a way you do not like, clearly and calmly tell that person what you see as the issue and how that makes you feel” says Dr Keown.  “Explain to them the negative consequences their behaviour is having on you and then tell them what you would like the new behaviour to be.  The most important thing is to do this sooner rather than later to avoid the situation becoming worse”.

If this fails, you need to make a formal complaint about the person’s behaviour towards you. To do this you need to follow your company’s grievance procedure.

Make sure you keep a diary of all incidents and file any emails or other written documents relating to the bullying.  If you decide to pursue a personal injury claim at a later date these will be very useful.

Work-related stress can make your life miserable.  Remember it is not your fault and you have a right to feel safe at work.  Bullying and harassment in any form is unacceptable and needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.