Poor mental health and stress in the workplace are significant factors preventing people performing at their best.  It is a major cause of long-term absence from work.

Last year around 800,000 people (1 in 40 workers) experienced work-related stress, anxiety, or depression.

Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by completing a risk assessment and acting on any findings. Click here for information and to access a template risk assessment. This includes examples to help you identify and manage work related stress for your organisation.

Causes of work-related stress

Many things can cause work-related stress. For example:

  • The demands of the job are excessive because of workload, unrealistic targets, or deadlines.
  • The employee feels they lack control over how they do their job.
  • The job role is not clearly defined.
  • There is little support or information from managers or colleagues.
  • Difficult relationships with colleagues or managers and/or bullying in the workplace
  • Change – affecting individual’s job role, team structure, management, or something else.

Signs of Stress

Early intervention can help prevent issues from escalating. However, if you become aware of a serious mental health issue you should take advice on how to handle this as you are unlikely to be qualified to tackle this without support.  Organisations like Mind and Rethink Mental Illness give information on potential signs of mental ill health.  Listed below are some of the signs you can be aware of.

Teams under stress may experience:

  • increased arguments
  • higher staff turnover
  • more reports of stress
  • greater sickness absence
  • decreased performance
  • more complaints and grievances

Individuals under stress may have physical symptoms, such as

  • arriving for work later
  • being more twitchy or nervous
  • experiencing low energy levels and tiredness whilst at work
  • changes due to gaining or losing weight
  • isolating themselves from others or becoming withdrawn
  • chest pains, tightness in the chest or panic attacks

Employees may take more time off due to:

  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • indigestion
  • muscle aches and pains
  • feeling sick
  • headaches

Common emotional or mental symptoms due to work-related stress include:

  • loss of concentration and confidence
  • low motivation or commitment to their job
  • difficulty making decisions
  • depression & anxiety
  • increased emotion – more tearful or sensitive
  • irritability or having a short temper
  • feeling overwhelmed or unable to ‘switch off’
  • mood swings


Clear job roles and realistic workloads

Research shows when you provide meaningful work, with realistic timeframes and deadlines you can reduce the level of workplace stress. Well-developed job descriptions and operating procedures clearly define the job role and how you expect it to be carried out..

Work-life Balance

If you promote an appropriate balance between work and personal life you will help keep people refreshed and productive. Flexible working arrangements can support someone who is experiencing mental health issues and/or prevent stress for those who need a different work-life balance for their individual circumstances.

Developing people management skills

Management style is a major cause of work-related stress. Give your managers training so they develop good people management skills to help reduce stress in your workplace. The CIPD have developed some line manager support materials showing the behaviours managers need to exhibit to engage with staff and promote positive wellbeing.

Promote awareness of mental health issues across the workforce

Being open about mental health issues in the workplace reduces stigma and help employees to come forward with their concerns and issues. Raise awareness and provide managers with information so they can signpost employees to expert sources of support e.g. a GP visit or occupational health. Promote the services of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you have one.

A good mental health framework should also address the risk of suicide. The CIPD have developed the following guides for people professionals and line managers on responding to suicide risk in the workplace.

Other resources include The Samaritans who can be reached 24/7 and the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a charity providing help and support dedicated to preventing male suicide.

Investing in good mental health for your employees leads to:

  • Increased productivity, efficiency, and innovation
  • Larger profits
  • Reduced business costs
  • Better staff morale and performance
  • Lower sickness absence, presenteeism and staff turnover

It makes a positive contribution to your reputation as a good employer.  Your organisation is more attractive to possible new recruits and you are able to retain staff and keep them safe.

For more information on mental health and stress in the workplace or other employment issues please Contact Solution22 – HR Consultancy Services.