Stress at work can be a big dent on the bank: it's costing the UK economy a staggering £5.2 billion each year according to a report from Health and Safety Executive (HSE). 

As an employer, you have a duty of care to protect employees from stress at work, so it's crucial that you're aware of both the causes and symptoms of stress so that you're able to minimise it and support an employee if they're suffering. 

Here's a helpful and straight-forward guide on the causes and symptoms of stress at work, and some effective practical steps you can take as an employer to minimise the risk in your workplace.

What are the causes of workplace stress? 

Our recent research found that 37% of UK businesses have seen an increase in stress-related absence over the last year. This can cause a significant dip in productivity and can be expensive if it gets out of hand, so it's important to be on the ball and aware of what the causes are so you're able to nip stress in the bud before it becomes a problem. 

Workplace stress can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Excessively high workloads and tight deadlines
  • Long hours
  • Lack of support
  • Role uncertainty
  • Workplace bullying, harassment or discrimination
  • Workplace changes
  • Boring job content
  • Insufficient workloads and underused skills
  • Lack of proper resources/equipment
  • Poor working relationships
  • Conflict
  • Toxic company culture
  • Bad management/leadership
  • Poor physical working environments
  • Unequal pay
  • Lack of promotional opportunities
  • Micromanagement

Learn why workplace health and wellbeing is key to business success

How do tell if an employee is suffering from stress?

As with all mental health issues, it can often be tricky to spot the signs of someone suffering from stress. Here are some key things to watch out for in the workplace:

  • Loss of interest in work
  • Reduced quality of work
  • Loss of sense of humour
  • Increased sickness absence
  • Poor time-keeping
  • Tiredness and irritability
  • Physical illness i.e. nausea, aches, pains and headaches

How to prevent or minimise work-related stress

A certain amount of stress at work is inevitable, and can even be beneficial . Stress also affects different people in different ways. But what can you do when work-related stress starts to affect how your employees cope?

Look out for the signs of stress in your teams. Is performance deteriorating? Are your employees losing interest in their work? Is sickness absence on the rise? Are you noticing tiredness and irritability?  These are all signs that there is potentially something wrong in the workplace. For more signs and symptoms of workplace stress, head over to our useful guide on what to do if you have an employee off work with stress

So, as an employer, what steps can you take to minimise the risk of stress in your workplace? Here are 5 useful tips. 

1. Establish a ‘well-being at work policy'

Encourage exercise through gym membership schemes and healthy eating by providing fruit bowls and healthy snacks. Provide ergonomic workstations to support good posture, make an effort to create a comfortable working environment and encourage staff to take short breaks and a lunch break away from their desk.

Here at Breathe, our Headspace Team is on a mission to ensure our people are taking regular breaks. This could be a 5 minute walk, a stroll to the kitchen to make a coffee and have a chat with colleagues or a trip to our breakout space to read a magazine, listen to music or do a puzzle. 

2. Lead by example

As a leader, manager or employer, it's crucial you set the tone for the rest of your staff. Take a lunch break and mingle with your teams, even if it’s just a short one. Give yourself a de-stress routine. Book holidays rather than forfeit them. Keep a lid on your emotions and try not to let your own stresses rub off on staff.  

3. Provide a break-out area

If you really want staff to take breaks, you need to provide a quiet space for them to be able to relax. This needs to be a space separate from the working environment where employees can chill out, get some headspace and socialise. 

Some popular features of a break-out area include magazine subscriptions, books, music, pool/football tables and food/drink facilities. 

4. Communicate effectively with employees

Always keep your employees up to date with changes. Lack of communication will only create a feeling of uncertainty, especially when it comes to job roles. Open communication and reassurance is essential if you want to keep stress levels to a minimum. 

5. Organise team building activities and social events

Your staff spend a lot of time with each other. It is crucial that they get along. Team building days and social activities will help your employees develop stronger bonds. 

Here are some great examples of fun team-building activities that your whole team will enjoy.