This year National Stress Awareness Day takes place on Wednesday 1 November to raise awareness of the effects and stigma of stress in the workplace. 

In a recent social media poll conducted by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) [1], , 1870 people responded to the poll, of those 84% disclosed that their work had caused them stress, etc.

What’s more, when asked if they felt comfortable discussing their stress at work, 54% admitted they did not. These findings bring to light the pervasive issue of workplace stress and the reluctance of many to address it openly.

Keep reading as we explore the concept of stress, its impact on individuals and teams and provide practical advice on how to manage and mitigate its effects.

Understanding stress

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) [2] defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them.” Stress is categorised as a “psychosocial hazard,” and it poses a serious health and safety problem for organisations. The HSE emphasises that organisations have a responsibility to take action where reasonably practicable.

While some may argue that a moderate level of stress can be motivating, excessive demands and pressures can be detrimental to one’s wellbeing. Stress, in itself, is not a disease, but prolonged exposure to high stress levels can lead to mental and physical health issues, often linked to work overload and broader mental health concerns in the workplace.

Recognising stress symptoms

Stress manifests itself in various ways, affecting both behavior and physical health. Common symptoms include:

  1. Work performance – A decline in work performance, uncharacteristic errors, loss of motivation, and lapses in memory.
  2. Conflict and emotional signs – Increased crying, arguments, undue sensitivity, irritability, and mood swings.
  3. Aggressive behavior – Criticising others, bullying, temper outbursts, and harassment.
  4. Physical signs – Nervous stumbling speech, sweating, tiredness, tension headaches, trouble sleeping, and rapid weight gain.

Signs of stress in teams

Stress doesn’t just impact individuals, it can also affect the dynamics of a team. Signs of stress in a team may include:

  • Arguments.
  • Higher staff turnover.
  • Increased reports of stress.
  • More sickness absences.
  • Decreased performance.
  • More complaints and grievances.

Recognising stress in a worker

Individuals experiencing stress may display noticeable changes in behavior, such as:

  • Taking more time off.
  • Arriving late for work.
  • Exhibiting nervousness.

Moreover, emotional and cognitive changes are also common signs of stress, including:

  • Mood swings.
  • Withdrawal from social interactions.
  • Loss of motivation, commitment, and confidence.
  • Increased emotional reactions (tearfulness, sensitivity, or aggressiveness).

How to help

Timely intervention is key to mitigating the impact of stress. If you suspect that a colleague or employee is struggling with stress, encourage them to seek support from their line manager, trade union representative, GP, or occupational health team. The HSE provides valuable tools, such as the Talking Toolkits [3], to facilitate conversations between employees and managers.

Employers should also assess and manage risks to their employees’ health through stress risk assessments [4]. The HSE’s Management Standards [5] offer guidance on identifying and addressing the six primary causes of workplace stress.

Taking control: Self-help strategies

Individuals can take proactive steps to manage and reduce stress. The NHS offers a range of practical advice for addressing stress:

  1. Be active – Regular exercise can reduce emotional intensity and help you tackle problems more calmly.
  2. Take control – Empower yourself by addressing problems instead of feeling helpless.
  3. Connect with people – A strong support network can alleviate stress and offer fresh perspectives.
  4. Have some ‘me time’ – Dedicate time to relaxation, socialising, or pursuing hobbies.
  5. Challenge yourself – Setting goals and taking on new challenges can boost confidence and resilience.
  6. Avoid unhealthy habits -Steer clear of relying on alcohol, smoking, or caffeine to cope with stress.
  7. Help others – Volunteering or small acts of kindness can increase resilience and wellbeing.
  8. Work smarter, not harder – Prioritise tasks and focus on those that make a significant impact.
  9. Try to be positive – Focus on gratitude and positive aspects of life.
  10. Accept the things you can’t change – Concentrate on areas where you have control.

Supporting each other

Workplace stress is a common and pervasive issue that can have profound effects on individuals and organisations. Recognising the signs of stress, both in oneself and in colleagues, is the first step towards addressing this challenge. Employers, employees, and support networks all play crucial roles in managing and reducing workplace stress. By taking proactive steps and fostering open discussions about stress, we can create healthier and more productive work environments for everyone involved.

Cardinus eLearning courses

Cardinus provides two comprehensive eLearning courses, which can help your organisation with stress management:

  1. Mental Health Awareness course – Designed for individuals and organisations to tackle mental health issues, including stress management at work.
  2. Personal Wellbeing course – Focuses on holistic personal health, covering stress management, movement, nutrition, and more, empowering individuals to lead healthier, happier lives.

We also have an employee productivity and wellbeing tool (Healthy Working Analytics), which helps organisations to identify what’s distracting their employees from delivering their best work and to make the right interventions. The distractions include stress as well as many other factors, which impact productivity and wellbeing.


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