What is Stress?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define ‘stress’ as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”.

Stress is not an illness, but rather a ‘state of mind’. If stress becomes excessive and prolonged, it can lead to physical and mental health problems. 

Pressure is an inherent part of work, whether it is a deadline that must not be missed, or a rate of output that must be maintained.

Stress can also be caused by non-work-related factors, such as bereavement, unhappy relationships, financial issues, etc.

Pressure does not necessarily lead to stress as each individual has a different level of pressure that they can cope with. However, if a person finds that they are unable to cope with the pressure they are experiencing they will start to feel the physical and mental effects.

Stress can lead to frequent short-term absences, persistent lateness and longer-term absences if the problem is not dealt with promptly. In the UK, work-related stress is one of the biggest causes of sickness absence.

The 2018/19 Labour Force Survey showed that:

Stress, depression or anxiety accounted for the largest number of days lost due to work-related ill health, 12.8 million days.

On average, each person suffering took around 21.2 days off work for Stress, depression or anxiety.

In 2018/19 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health cases and

54% of all working days lost due to ill health.

Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2019

What are the Physical, Psychological and Behavioural effects of stress?

See the effects on the Short and Long term effects of stress page.

Causes of Stress

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Management Standards for Work-Related Stress:

  • Demands – for example: excessive work demands in terms of workload (too much / little), speed of work and deadlines, long working hours, changing shift patterns, inherently difficult jobs, inherently emotional jobs, individuals’ skills not matched to job demands.
  • Control – for example: lack of control over work, what work is to be done, how work is to be done, the pace of work, priorities, lack of initiative.
  • Support – for example: lack of support in terms of information, instruction and training to do the work, lack of information in terms of support available, having no-one to turn to for support.
  • Relationships – for example: poor workplace relationships / conflict, and in particular bullying and harassment, lack of policies and procedures to deal with these problems.
  • Role – for example: lack of clarity about an individuals’ role, what responsibilities and authority they have, and how they fit into the larger organisational structure, no clear job descriptions or systems to enable employees to raise concerns about their role and responsibilities.
  • Change – for example: the threat of change and the change process itself, lack of consultation, communication and support during periods of change.
  • Other Factors – for example: environmental factors, such as, noise, vibration, lack of / poor equipment available, inadequate lighting / temperature, inadequate welfare facilities, cramped / dirty / untidy workplaces, lack of privacy or security, or threat of violence.

Non-work factors can also be a source of stress, such as bereavement, separation, relationship problems, family illness, debt issues, moving house, etc.

Other factors which can cause or increase stress levels include long-term sickness and absence, also, some individuals are predisposed to anxiety and the negative effects of stress.

Stress Indication Tools

Support Available

If a member of your team tells you that they are suffering with work-related stress, or they are absent from work because of stress, it is important that you contact the Health, Safety and Wellbeing team, you can do this by contacting HR Direct as soon as possible. We are then able to help you to support them better and also put plans in place to prevent further stress and harm.

Training courses which may help an individuals ability to cope with work-based stressors, are available at the links below

Lighten Up: a 5-module programme which will give you skills and tools to increase your personal resilience at home and at work. Email HR Direct for details.

EAP is a free and confidential service provided by Health Assured, which can provide face-to-face or telephone counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and advice and information on a wide range of topics, including financial, relationship and legal issues.

Stress Risk Assessment

A work related stress risk assessments look at the Demand, Control, Support, Relationships, Role and Change in each specific role, used to determine a residual risk level.

Management Tools

The two documents below can be utilised by managers. One by the manager to review actions within their department, if a work related stress report is received, the second form can be used by the manager to assist when an individual is showing signs of stress before sickness is reported.

They are also used by Health Safety and Wellbeing when an individual is returning to the workplace.

Helping Yourself

  • Top 10 Stress Busters
  • Talk to your manager – if they don’t know you are struggling, they cannot help. Think about what support you need to discuss this with your manager. Use the ‘Preparing for a Wellbeing conversation with your Manager’ template to help you.
  • Contact your local ‘Mental Health Wellbeing Champion’ for support and signposting.
  • Contact the Employee Assistance Programme via their helpline or website.
  • Try to channel your energy into solving the problem rather than worrying about it.
  • Eat healthily.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Keep within the government’s recommendation on alcohol limits. Alcohol acts as a depressant and will not help you to tackle the problem.
  • Watch your caffeine intake – tea, coffee and some cola drinks can make you feel more anxious.
  • Be physically active – it increases good endorphins and gives you more energy.
  • Try relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises.
  • Talk to your GP.