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  • Writer's pictureJuulia

Boosting Resilience: A Guide to Conquering Workplace Stress & Anxiety

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Workplace stress and anxiety; we’ve all encountered them at some point or another in our professional careers. Either because we ourselves have struggled with them or because we know of a colleague who has.

Although stress, depression, and anxiety can be attributed as the reason for 51% of all workplace-related ill health, [1] their impact on employee wellbeing, productivity, and job satisfaction has historically been overlooked. Post-pandemic, however, this has shifted as work-life balance and wellbeing have risen in importance to workers [2].

What does this all mean for our modern workplaces?

In this blog post, we will take a deep dive into the multifaceted impacts of workplace stress and anxiety on both employees and businesses. We will also review our legal obligations as employers and present some proactive strategies and solutions you can implement in your own team to begin to alleviate the impact of workplace stress and anxiety through the prioritisation of mental health in your workplace, ultimately creating a more supportive, productive, and resilient workforce.

Sounds great, but what exactly are workplace stress and anxiety?

Before delving deeper into how we can work on creating more resilience in our teams regarding workplace stress & anxiety, we first need to understand what we mean by both terms. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there are some differences between them which are outlined below.

Workplace Stress refers to the physical and emotional responses that occur when the job demands exceed the worker's ability to cope. It can be caused by various factors, including excessive workload, tight deadlines, lack of support, or poor work-life balance.

Workplace Anxiety involves persistent and excessive worry about work-related activities or situations. An individual may fear making mistakes, not meeting expectations, dealing with demanding clients, or facing job loss. This anxiety can interfere with their work performance, relationships, and well-being.

As you can see from the definitions above, workplace stress and anxiety are often interconnected, and both can have significant implications for individuals and organisations. The main difference between the two is that with workplace anxiety, someone tends to experience persistent worries even without an external stressor. Often workplace anxiety will develop in response to someone having experienced workplace stress for a significant length of time; our brain has encountered stressful situations so often that it begins to anticipate that we will encounter another one.

Regarding workplace stress, the saying ‘The dose makes the poison’ rings very accurate; stress is a natural response to pressure and a little pressure can make us perform better and make our work feel more fulfilling. When left unchecked, however, stress and anxiety can become problematic when we have prolonged exposure to them and they begin to impact our ability to live our lives.

In the workplace, this might look like engaging in procrastination, irritability, difficulty concentrating, losing confidence in yourself, not feeling committed to your work, or difficulty making decisions. At its most extreme, you may also find yourself unable to engage with work to the point of needing to be signed off and/or experiencing burnout.

What Causes Workplace Stress and Anxiety?

Workplace stress and anxiety can arise from various factors. Some of these factors are person-specific (e.g., lack of skill/experience and age), but research tells us that the most significant contributing factors are tied to the work itself.

According to the HSE [3], the primary sources of workplace stress are:

  • Demands: The workload, work pace, and/or working environment.

  • Control: The degree of influence someone has over the way they work.

  • Support: The degree of resources, encouragement, training, and recognition offered.

  • Relationships: Are positive working relationships promoted, and how is unacceptable behaviour addressed?

  • Role Confusion: Do people clearly understand the expectations of their role?

  • Change: How is change (big or small) managed and communicated?

Our Legal Responsibilities as Employers Regarding Stress at Work

UK employers with 5 or more employees have a legal responsibility to complete a written risk assessment of stress at work and to act on its findings [4].

This risk assessment is done once for the entire company and doesn’t need to be completed for each employee. It is typically filled in by the person at your company who looks after your team's physical and mental well-being. In a small company, this might be a founding director or someone in the Operations Team, while a larger team may have someone in the People team.

This risk assessment should cover the following:

  1. Identify the current primary causes of workplace stress

  2. What you’re already doing to control for those risks of workplace stress

  3. What further action can reasonably be taken to reduce the risk

  4. What actions need to be taken, and who is responsible for them

The actions you promise should be reasonable adjustments that protect your employees against the most significant risks you identify that expose them to stressors outside the everyday demands and expectations of working life.

Download our free Stress at Work Risk Assessment Template:

Bluebird Workplace Stress Risk Assessment Template
Download DOCX • 362KB

All the Other Reasons We Should Care About Workplace Stress

Beyond the legal requirement to take reasonable action to mitigate the impact of the most significant risks of workplace stress, there are numerous other reasons why we as leaders, want to ensure we actively engage with employee wellbeing.

1. Impact of Stress & Anxiety on Employee Health

Persistent workplace stress can lead to a host of health issues for your team, from the more apparent mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety to even physical ailments; chronic stress is closely linked to high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and even heart disease. [5]

Long-term stress can also contribute to musculoskeletal problems such as back pain and upper limb disorders. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) [6] reported that in 2019/20, musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 8.9 million working days lost in the UK.

These health issues not only negatively affect the quality of life of your team but also lead to increased sick leave, which in turn is disruptive to your business and has a knock-on effect on other team members.

2. Decreased Productivity

High-stress levels and anxiety can significantly impair your team’s ability to focus, think creatively, and make decisions. Not only does this lead to reduced productivity, but it also increases the risk of burnout resulting from prolonged feelings of overwhelm and detachment.

3. Increased Employee Turnover

A 2022 study conducted by AVIVA [2] found that 41% of the employees surveyed said they were attracted to their current role because of the work/life balance over salary (36%). This shift from the post-pandemic has seen employees placing a bigger emphasis on workplace benefits that improve their happiness. The natural consequence is that high-stress work environments are more likely to see employees looking for job opportunities elsewhere.

Besides the loss of knowledge and negative impact on morale among the remaining team, high staff turnover can also have significant financial impacts on your business because of the costs associated with hiring and training new staff. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) [7] estimates that the average cost of employee turnover for senior-level or highly specialised roles could be as high as £40,000.

4. Reputational Risk

As previously stated, employees now attribute increasing value to non-monetary workplace benefits and a positive work culture that promotes mental health and work-life balance. In the era of transparency and social media, a company known for its high-stress environment and lack of these benefits can struggle to attract (let alone retain) top talent.

5. Financial Costs

According to a 2022 report by Deloitte [8], the financial impact of mental health to employers increased to £56 billion in 2020-2021 from £45 billion in 2019.

This figure considers not only the impact of lost productivity and increased absenteeism but also the significant cost associated with employee turnover. The same survey found that 28% of the people surveyed had left their job in 2021 or planned to leave in 2022. Of these respondents, 61% said that this was due to poor mental health. These latest figures suggest that for every £1 invested into staff wellbeing, employers can expect a return on investment of £5.30. That sounds like an excellent investment to us!

10 Initiatives to Improve Employee Wellbeing

Now that we’ve discussed workplace stress and anxiety, the contributing factors to their development, and our responsibilities as employers, let’s explore some ways we can support our teams.

Create Constructive Feedback Loops - create opportunities for your employees to constructively give feedback to you on what their needs at work are and how they are being (or not being) met currently.

Encourage Physical Movement - create opportunities for your team to move their bodies. This might be by encouraging people to take a ‘walking meeting’ or providing access to workplace yoga.

Opportunities for Social Connection - With more and more of us working at least partly online, the need to create opportunities for connection is greater than ever. You might want to use a tool like Donut to encourage your team to connect not just as colleagues but as people.

Set Performance Goals Together - Get your team to brainstorm and set your KPIs. This might take the form of interactive workshops or more intimate one-on-one conversations. Remember to celebrate as a team when you achieve your goals!

Share Your Preferences - We are all different regarding the conditions that allow us to do our best work. Encourage your team to share their preferences with others by having them answer some questions about what works best for them. Maybe someone really benefits from hopping on a Zoom call while someone else needs things written down. You might choose to share these answers somewhere accessible to everyone or encourage people to have discussions about their preferences when they begin working together.

Encourage Deep Work - Although we all love to believe we are good at multitasking, the sad truth is that, generally, people are pretty terrible at it! When we create opportunities for our team to engage in deep work (uninterrupted time spent concentrating on one task), we allow them to do their best thinking and work. Encourage people to communicate when they need deep work and when they are taking it. We can also model this as leaders ourselves.

Provide Access to Resources - One of the most powerful tools we can provide our clients is access to resources that teach them the skills they need to thrive in high-stress environments. This might take the form of group training or one-to-one workplace counselling. A study by McLeod (2010) [9], found that workplace counselling significantly reduced anxiety and depression levels among employees and improved work effectiveness and client satisfaction.

Signal Off Days - We all have days when we are not at our 100 per cent. Encourage your team to signify to those working with them that they are not working at peak capacity. This might be as simple as having a check-in be part of your morning stand-up or having a dedicated Slack status that acts as a signal to others.

Have Retrospectives - Don’t be afraid to explicitly ask your team what is and is not working. Retrospectives provide a space to non-defensively discuss what has happened over the past few weeks and months and create a proactive plan for improving things. They can create accountability and connection.

Model Health Boundaries - When it comes to mental health at work, we want to lead by example. Often as leaders, we don’t take advantage of the resources that we put in place for our teams. When we do, we signal to our teams that they are not only allowed to focus on their mental health but it is also encouraged!

How We Can Help Your Team

Still, feeling unsure of how to implement positive changes in your own workplace? Why not get in touch with us?

At Bluebird Counselling & Consultancy, we can help you with all aspects of employee wellbeing, from assessment of where you are now to training for your managers or employees. We can also support you in setting up your own bespoke and responsive employee counselling service.

All our services can be offered in-person or online to fit your company’s needs.

Would you be interested in learning more? You can just reach out using the form below to get more information or to arrange a consultation with our team.

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