NHS Blood and Transplant People First

Stress and Work Related Stress

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.

Effects of Stress

Short Term Effects

Physical Effects

Psychological Effects

Behavioural Effects


Lack of Concentration

Changes in eating habits

Fast Heartbeat

Poor Memory

Increased use of alcohol / drugs

Increased Blood Pressure

Low Self-esteem

Sleeping Problems

Skin rashes / reddening



Muscle Tension


Regular lateness


Loss of Motivation

Frequent short-term absences

Long Term Effects

Physical Effects

Psychological Effects

Behavioural Effects

High Blood Pressure


Eating Disorders

Heart Disease


Alcohol / Drug addiction


Bipolar Disorder

Long-term absence

Chronic Back Pain



Irritable Bowel Syndrome



Incidence of Stress-Related Sickness Absence

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 2015/16 Labour Force Survey showed that;

  • 7 million working days were lost to stress, anxiety and depression – this equates to an average of 23.9 days per case (488,000 cases)
  • stress accounted for 37% of work-related ill-health
  • stress accounted for 45% of all working days lost to ill-health

Causes of Stress

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.

Support Available

  • Health, Safety and Wellbeing team. 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 via HR Direct or on 27700 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 individual’s 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.

Occupational Health, provided by OH Assist, can give advice on dealing with health issues in the workplace and make recommendations on how to support an individual at work.

  • Work Related Stress Risk Assessments:

Following a referral to Occupational Health a workplace assessment or a stress risk assessment may be a recommended outcome. Occupational health will contact the Health, Safety and Wellbeing team advising them of the recommendation.

The Health, Safety and Wellbeing team will then arrange with management and colleague involved for the assessment to be carried out.

Stress Risk Assessments

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 bellow can be utilised by managers. One by the manger 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.

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.
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