Workplace stress

Workplace stressAlthough some degree of stress is to be expected in most jobs, too much stress can affect your ability to carry out your role and can even be dangerous for your health

What is workplace stress?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines workplace stress as: "The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work."

Signs of stress may include:

  • depression and negative feelings;
  • lack of motivation or confidence;
  • inability to concentrate and memory problems;
  • eating problems and alcoholism;
  • difficulty sleeping.

Employers have a duty of care to protect the health of their staff. So if your health is suffering as a result of work-related stress, you should raise this with your line manager or HR department.

What are the main causes of stress in the workplace?

There are a wide range of triggers of stress, from bullying and harassment to an excessive workload or problems with your working environment. Other possible causes of stress at work include:

  • not having any say in how you do your job (eg inability to control your pace of work or when you can take breaks);
  • lack of understanding of your role within the organisation, or feeling that your responsibilities are unclear;
  • insufficient support from your company and colleagues (eg not receiving constructive feedback);
  • disruptive changes within your company which are not properly communicated.

What can I do if I'm suffering from stress at work?

The first thing to do if you are suffering from workplace stress is to discuss this with your line manager. There are several ways they might be able to help with the problem.

  • You can make a request for flexible working. You have a legal right to ask for this if you have worked for your employer for at least six months (unless you are an employee-shareholder). Your employer doesn't have to agree but must consider the request reasonably.
  • You can ask to be moved to a different department, or a less stressful role.
  • You can ask your employer to intervene to stop any bullying or harassment. If the bullying or harassment involves unlawful discrimination, you can make a formal complaint and if necessary complain to an employment tribunal.
  • If you have a disability - including some mental illnesses such as long-term depression - you can ask your employer to make reasonable adjustments to your workplace to reduce stress. If your employer does not, you may be able to make a claim for disability discrimination.
  • You can ask for a referral to an occupational health specialist.

In addition to speaking to your line manager or HR department, you can consider writing a formal letter of grievance, contacting a union rep or talking to an employment lawyer about work-related stress. If you resign due to stress you may, in some circumstances, be able to claim constructive dismissal - but you should always talk to a lawyer first.

You should also talk to your GP - both to determine what is causing your stress and for your records, in case you wish to make a claim and need evidence.

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