Stress at work

By Martin Vogel

All too much?

The charity, Mind, is running a campaign on mental health at work.

It’s offering resources to help employees manage stress at work. Mind emphasises the need to recognise when you are feeling and stress and your ability to take action about it, however small. In most jobs, one has some autonomy to manage things without reference to anyone else; making the most of this gives you some sense of control and helps you to stop feeling the victim of other people’s demands.

There’s some good advice on how to do this:

  • Develop good relationships with colleagues so that you can build up a network of support.
  • Talk to someone you trust, at work or outside, about what upsets you or makes you feel stressed. This is not a sign of weakness, it’s taking responsibility for your wellbeing.
  • Treat colleagues with the respect and consideration you want from them.
  • Communicate if you need help.
  • Be assertive – say no if you can’t take on extra demands.
  • Be realistic – you don’t have to be perfect all the time.
  • Write a list of what needs to be done; it only takes a few minutes and can help you to prioritise, focus and get things in perspective. It can also feel satisfying to tick items off once they have been done.
  • If everything starts to feel overwhelming, take a deep breath. Try and get away from your desk or situation for a few minutes – get a drink or go to the toilet.
  • Try and take a walk or get some fresh air during the day – exercise and daylight are beneficial to mental as well as physical health.
  • Make sure you drink enough water and that you eat during the day to maintain your energy levels.
  • Learn some relaxation techniques.
  • Work regular hours and take the breaks and holidays you’re entitled to. If things are getting too much, book a day off or a long weekend.
  • Try not to work long hours or take work home with you. This may be all right in the short term, if the work has a specific purpose and is clearly defined – a team effort to complete an urgent project may be very satisfying – however, working longer hours does not generally lead to better results.
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance – nurture your outside relationships, interests, and the abilities your job does not use.

The more impressive aspect of the campaign though is the call on employers to recognise their duty of care to employees with respect to mental health. This is an obligation on all employers, big or small, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1984. Yet, as Mind says:

“Mental health is still a taboo subject, with employers and employees feeling scared and confused about confronting the issue. As a result, millions of workers are putting on a ‘brave face’, hiding the fact they are experiencing distress. Work-related mental ill health costs the UK economy up to £26 billion every year through lost working days, staff turnover and lower productivity.”

Mind offers resources for employees to help them ensure they’re promoting the wellbeing of staff and it makes clear that it’s in companies own interests to get this right:

“If your work environment and relationships aren’t right you’ll struggle to recruit and retain good staff. Creating the right environment and supportive relationships between staff will prevent your staff from experiencing work-related mental health problems and help your organisation to thrive.

  • Make sure that work environments are suitable for the task. Noise, temperature and light levels can all have a big impact on wellbeing. Could space dividers, quiet spaces or music improve your workplace?
  • Manage workloads among your staff. Make sure that no one is expected to deliver more than what they are capable of.
  • Train managers to identify risks, recognise mental ill health and support their staff.
  • For staff working in isolation, ensure there are clear and regular lines of communication.”

It’s a duty of care, but it also makes good business sense.

Image courtesy Bhernandez.