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Workplace stress: the complete guide for small businesses

7 min read | 9 April, 2020 By Sarah Benstead


When stress at work becomes too much, it can have serious repercussions on both the employee and the business.

And it's more serious than we may realise: the Health and Safety Executive has reported that workplace stress is costing the economy £5.2 billion each year.

But what causes workplace stress? And as the employer, what can you do to protect your team from stress?

In this guide, we'll cover:

What is workplace stress?

According to the Health & Safety Executive:

"Stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work."

Stress can affect anyone - it doesn't discriminate. You could be in any workplace and in any role. 

Although a small level of stress can help us to perform better in our roles and meet deadlines, when these levels get too high it can become serious.

Workplace stress can cause significant mental and physical illness and is associated with increased sickness absence and employee turnover. 

How common is workplace stress?

Workplace stress is becoming increasingly common - and increasingly serious.

A study by Perkbox found that, of British adults in employment, a staggering 79% commonly experience work-related stress.

The research also found that work is the biggest cause of stress across the UK. This comes above money worries, relationship stress and health concerns. 


mental health in the workplace_Stress_employee_work_laptop

What are the causes of workplace stress? 

Stress 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:

  • Excessively high workloads and tight deadlines
  • Long working hours
  • Lack of managerial 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 with other team members
  • Toxic company culture
  • Bad management/leadership
  • Poor physical working environments
  • Unequal pay
  • Lack of promotional opportunities
  • Micromanagement

How do you know if an employee is stressed?

As with all mental health issues, it can often be tricky to spot the signs of someone suffering from stress.

Some signs of workplace stress include:

  • 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 work-related stress

Download infographic

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.

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

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

Encourage a healthy lifestyle by including a discounted gym membership as part of the employee benefits package you offer. You can also provide a fruit bowl for your team to enjoy throughout the day.

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. Our team can also head over 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, so it's 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. 

Breathe Stress Cooler_Horizontal_Horizontal_Horizontal

Download Stress Cooler


What can my team do to minimise stress?

Whilst it's important for you as the employer to take steps to minimise stress in your workplace, it's important that your people do their bit, too. 

Here's what your team can be doing to practise self-care and keep their stress levels down.

Get enough sleep

Getting your 8 hours is crucial to managing stress levels.

Lack of sleep can lead to a low mood, lack of energy and inability to concentrate all things that are linked with stress. So, getting a good night's sleep should be a top priority.

If some of your team members are struggling to drift off at night, they could try these powerful mindfulness exercises.


If your team are feeling stressed, exercise will do wonders.

When we exercise, we release endorphins. These boost our mood, relax us and eliminate any feelings of negativity.

And this doesn't stop as soon as you finish exercising - you'll have endorphins flowing around your body after your workout, leaving you feeling great for the rest of the day.

This doesn't have to be intense or extensive exercise; even a short walk around the block helps.

Encourage your team to stay active. Including a discounted gym membership as part of their employee benefits is a good place to start. 

Maintain a work-life balance

Getting that balance between your work and personal life is crucial for general wellbeing. Upset that balance and it can lead to not only stress - but depression and even burnout

Encourage your team to always take their full lunch break and avoid checking their emails outside of their working hours. Not only will this nip stress in the bud, but research has found that you're actually more productive if you achieve a work-life balance. Who knew?

Key takeaways

Every employer is tackling the issue of workplace stress - and it isn't easy.

But whether you're the business leader, HR professional or line manager, you have the power to alleviate stress levels among your team.

Put your people first, prioritise wellbeing and lead by example. Your business may just thank you for it later.


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Posted on 9 April, 2020

By Sarah Benstead

in Mental Health

Tag Mental Health

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