Managing Stress At Work

Managing your employees stress 

I was recently contacted by an employee who was departing from his employment with his employer as he had become so stressed by the pressures of his job role and the pressures placed on him by his employer that he became very unwell.

This was an employee in a senior position who had worked in high pressured roles for a long time. He had no history of stress or stress related illness and it was just the pressures of the role that had made him unwell.

The most surprising thing for me was that the employer was aware of the pressure and long hours being put upon the employee and aware that help was needed to prevent stress from reoccurring, but the employer refused to make any changes or adjustments to the role or workload, the result being that the employee felt the best thing for his future health was to leave the organization.

The reason I find this surprising is that in my opinion it is a very shortsighted way to deal with the issue and from a business perspective likely to be costly in the long run.

If an experienced and fairly robust person with no history of stress related illness cannot deal with the workload required what is there to say the next person, they employ will be any different? The issue here was that the expectations of the role were unrealistic.

Unfortunately, in some industries it seems to be that Managing Director’s or CEO’s believe if they pay a high enough salary they can set unrealistic targets and expectations. Whilst this may have short term gains it will only lead to burn out, high turn over of staff, lack of continuity and potentially legal claims.

What is stress?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand place on them’.

What are the most common causes of stress?

1) Workload
2) Non-work relationships
3) Management style
4) Personal health issues

Factors that contribute to stress in the workplace?

• A culture of long working hours
• Culture of ‘presenteeism’ i.e. employees feeling the need to attend at work even when they are unwell
• Lack of supervision and support from managers
• High turnover of colleagues
• Lack of communication and transparency
• Lack of training
• Unhappy workplace
• Unhealthy work environment

What are your legal obligations?

As an employer you are required to protect the health and safety of your employees and this includes from stress at work and the resulting illness or injury.
In addition to this general duty you also have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and well being of employees when they are at work.

You are legally required to undertake a risk assessment of the potential risks to employees in your workplace. This should be recorded in writing and reviewed on a regular basis.

Steps to prevent stress from occurring

1) Carry out regular stress risk assessments
2) Create a stress at work policy
3) Educate managers and senior members of staff about the signs of stress, impact of stress and ways to prevent it from occurring
4) Promote well-being and stress awareness among employees
5) Create a culture of communication

Resources for employers

HSE Guide for employers – How to tackle work-related stress –

HSE Guide for employees – Working together to reduce stress at work –

ACAS Advice Booklet – Stress at work –

 This article was written and researched by Alison Colley, Solicitor and Director of Real Employment Law Advice

 Don’t forget getting advice from a Solicitor does not have to be complicated or costly!

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