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Stress Awareness Month

As Stress Awareness Month reaches its conclusion, we share our thoughts on the compelling reasons for businesses to focus on reducing work related stress. Moral and reputational imperatives aside, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that work-related stress, depression or anxiety was the cause of over half of all working days lost to work-related ill health in 2021 to 2022.

Work-related stress?

Stress in small amounts is a normal part of life and usually people can deal with short periods of stress which may even act as a motivating force (an impending deadline can give some employees the push they need to focus on getting the job done). However, everyone reacts to stress in different ways and issues arise when employees face prolonged high levels of stress or have difficulty dealing with the stresses they experience day to day.

In the current climate there are a number non-work-related factors which may contribute to increased stress levels within the workforce. Rising bills and the cost of living crisis are creating worry and anxiety. At work the post-COVID-19 hybrid working arrangement has seen many employees working from home more which can lead to feelings of isolation and poor differentiation between work and home life increasing stress levels. Recruitment struggles may lead to overwork or employees being asked to take on duties outside the usual remit of their role or area of expertise.

Whatever the causes, as an employer it is important to identify when an employee may be struggling with stress and to carefully consider what steps you can take to minimise work stress.


Employees may not be willing to admit they are struggling which can made it hard for employers to recognise when there is a problem. However, there are signs an employer can be on the lookout for. Signs that an employee may be struggling with stress could include:

  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Changes to their usual personality such as being more short tempered than usual or isolating themselves;
  • Lacking confidence;
  • Appearing unable to switch off from work; or
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches.


If you know or suspect your employees are suffering from stress at work, you may want to consider implementing some or all of the following:

  • Ensuring appropriate managerial support through regular 1:1s, team meetings and supervision. These can be very useful for identifying potential problems early on with a view to supporting employees in reducing stress levels for example by actively encouraging better working habits or re-distributing workload if appropriate (both common stressors).
  • Having policies in place which seek to ensure working methods and expectations are clear and staff know when and how they can access support if necessary.
  • Reminding employees of access to Employee Assistance Programmes.

Risks to employers

Employers who fail to adequately manage stress in their workplace face a number of legal and reputational risks which, in a challenging recruitment market, may be of serious concern. The legal risks include:

  • Breaching health and safety obligations – employers have a legal responsibility to carry out a risk assessment and monitor levels of stress at work. They should take steps to address levels of stress which become problematic.
  • Potential discrimination claims – where an employee has been suffering from stress for long periods it may develop into an impairment (for example low mood, depression or anxiety) which may constitute a disability under the Equality Act 2010. It they are treated differently or in a way that disadvantages them they may be entitled to bring claims against their employer.
  • Potential unfair dismissal claims – an employee who experiences prolonged periods of stress may resign and claim that their employer’s failure to adequately minimise stress in the workplace entitled them to resign and claim they had been constructively dismissed.
  • High levels of sickness absence – which result in other employees being overworked and under undue stress and could affect business delivery.

Stress is experienced by almost everyone and whilst it is easy to overlook, it is important for employers to take stock and carefully consider what support is in place to make sure legal obligations are met and a healthy working environment exists.


Article by Lucy Hughes

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