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Mental Health in the Workplace: Tips for Managing Stress

“Although ‘stress’ is not automatically covered by the DDA, work-related stress is the leading occupational health problem in the UK. Neither people nor organisations perform at their best when stress is not managed effectively.” Tackling Mental Health.

It seems, even today, managers and business owners are far more at ease dealing with someone who has a physical health problem than someone who has mental health issues that need to be addressed. Losing staff because of stress related illnesses can create problems for any company and having the right coping strategies in place can make a big difference.

When someone is finding it difficult to cope with the rigours of their job then it’s far easier to decide they are not particularly competent. In most cases, this is a convenient way of brushing the problem under the carpet. The good managers are the ones that make sure their staff are valued; who have good listening skills and are flexible in their approach. Many managers and business owners say they value employee health and safety, there are considerably fewer who actually deliver in a fast paced, modern office.

Employees Often Don’t Notice Stress

The Guardian recently outlined the story of a young executive who, out of the blue, suffered a panic attack at work. Whilst her doctor signed her off because she was suffering from depression, something which she had not been conscious of, her work continued to contact her every day to check up on her. When she returned to the office she found her desk had been moved and her work colleagues were talking about her behind her back. She left the job six months later with the belief that her company really didn’t care.

The story outlines several problems concerning stress in the work environment – firstly that the people who suffer are not always aware they have a problem until the problem boils over into a mental health issue and secondly the often poor reaction of workplaces and members of staff to this kind of event.

Advice for Employers

Stress is a reality in all workplaces and providing your staff with the infrastructure that supports them can go a long way to reducing potential problems. In reality, that infrastructure covers a whole range of things from how valued someone is in their job, the support they receive from those around them, how change is managed sensitively and professionally, and how much control people have over their work.

Support can include:

  • Confidential phone lines that employees contact for advice.
  • Places where people can go to relax and forget about work for a few moments.
  • Helping those under stress or encountering problems to better organise their time.
  • Having the right medical advice such as occupational health consultants who can advise on appropriate action and treatment.

Employees need to be able to have their say without fear of being disadvantaged by a manager who is more results driven than people focused. That means providing managers with the right training and the appropriate guidance to not only reduce stress levels for employees in the first place but also to spot when someone is having difficulty.

Finally, workplaces certainly need to have the structures in place that allow people who have suffered from mental health problems to return to the office and thrive when they have been off for a while. That includes not only properly phasing a return but ensuring there is an understanding that a mental health problem isn’t a weakness and all staff are aware of the right way to behave towards the individual concerned.

Advice for Employees

Coping with stress is not easy. Often the effects build gradually and you don’t notice that it may be having an impact on your health. If you are continually thinking about work and have trouble sleeping at night then you are probably under a fair degree of stress. Stress can also lead to you drinking more or eating unhealthily. Whilst for some this might be a temporary situation, for others it is ongoing and relentless.

  • If you are always short of time, can you better organise your daily routine to take some of the pressure off? Changing just a few small things could make a big difference.
  • Do you need to talk to someone about the problems you are having – either your GP or another health professional or even a friend who is good at giving sound advice? Too many employees bottle up their stress and try to knuckle down. It may work in the short term but could have long lasting effects if not addressed in time.
  • Are you making yourself too available to everyone, for instance accepting every job put on your desk so that your workload becomes unwieldy? It’s okay to say no if you are overburdened with work.
  • Are you missing breaks and not getting enough me time? Taking small breaks and freeing up your mind from the stresses of work can help to alleviate the problem and give you a better perspective.

These are just some of the questions every employee needs to ask and make the necessary changes if needed.  The consequences of not dealing with stress can be catastrophic and both employees and employers need to work together to make the office environment a responsive and safer place for everyone to operate. That means having employees who are confident to raise issues and employers who have the sense to listen and act.

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