Part 1: Employee stress in the workplace

Stress in the workplace
Dr. Darren Bassett
Written by Dr. Darren Bassett

In this first part of my three-part look at stress in the workplace, I’m going to focus on the contributory factors of stress.

This miniseries will be a series of bite-sized snippets of information to give you a larger picture of what could be going on within your organisation, and it will help you focus on what steps and direction you need to take in order to gain control of it. 

Stress in the workplace is a serious issue. It’s no secret that the workplace is always changing in the UK, but some recent studies show that up to 80 percent of executives at senior level also believe, that as little as five years ago the workplace was a much less stressful place.

According to HSE, in 2013, 11.3 million working days were lost due to stress, depression and anxiety. This is an average of 23 days per case and the Centre for Economics and Business Research suggests the cost of work-related stress to the economy is £6.5bn

Now there are far too many factors involved to pinpoint with any precision what the main cause is, and each person will be affected by stressors in different ways.

Irrespective of how stress is manifested, however, it can have an enormous impact in the workplace especially regarding productivity.

Work demands cause stress

Well OK the headline isn’t exactly news, but the one thing I continue to see over and over, which contributes to workplace stress in a big way, are simply demands. Or I should say, an employee not being able to keep up with the demands of their role.

There are quite a few problems which contribute here, the most common one I see on a frequent basis is unachievable demands, or quite literally unrealistic expectations being placed on an employee.

This is especially true in high-pressure roles such as doctors, surgeons, and lawyers. There are of course other factors which haven’t been discussed but are equally important, these could be as simple as inadequate training or an employment mismatch of role to skills in an employee.

Stress and the cyber age

We as people, and especially in our working environments, are becoming heavily reliant on technology, which has a direct impact on the number of employees working from home after the office has closed for the day.

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For example, checking and answering email correspondence while with their family or during other personal time.

Now, this might not sound like the end of the World as we know it, but it is having a dramatic impact on the mental wellness of those employees.

They are getting little rest, and even worse they aren’t able to switch off at the end of the day, leading to raised cortisol levels, which then leads the way for increased stress levels.

Square peg in a round hole

Organisations are well known the World over for not giving much in the way of control over their working practices for the individual.

No autonomy over your role within an organisation can lead to workplace stress, feelings of under utilisation when an employee has specific skills, and having no say about how their work is carried out can leave them frustrated and feeling under appreciated.

Further triggers appear when there is a lack of understanding of a particular role, its responsibilities, and its expectations.

Employee support reduces workplace stress

The social elements of the workplace are just as important as the infrastructure. Receiving little or no praise or support from colleagues, both in similar or higher positions, including feedback on their success and where they might need a little help.

Feeling like you are winging it, or being alone, can lead to tremendous amounts of stress without this vital input. It is also critical to let employees know what support they can expect in their role, what support is available and how to access it when they require it.

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Interpersonal skills directly affect workplace stress

This is something that isn’t really under the full control of a workplace but rather controlled by proxy via the control of negative behaviour.

Poor relationships at work and behaviour that isn’t befitting the role can be one of the most distressing factors for workplace stress, and because of this, I will cover it in more detail in the next part of this three-part look into stress and the workplace.

Bullying in any environment should be dealt with swiftly and positively. An employee subject to bullying in the workplace is wide open to incredibly damaging mental health issues, which in turn damages the organisation. Both in terms of reputation, financial bottom line and of course and negative impact on other employees.

Where stress is concerned, is a change as good as a rest?

The answer is, it depends. The working environment is prone to changes frequently, the real problem arises when poorly communicated and managed changes impact the mental health of its employees.

The common factors being lack of timely information leading to stressful situations, poor reasoning leading to misgivings, an inability for employees to influence any change proposals and something we have already touched on before, lack of support during the changes.

Well, that’s it for this first part in this miniseries, in the next part (Part 2: Bullying and workplace stress) I will look more at negative relationships in the workplace and how they contribute to stress.


HR Review (2015) The workplace is more stressful than five years ago
HSE (2015) Work-related stress – together we can tackle it


Stress questionnaire

Stress Questionnaire

Identify stress worksheet

How to Identify Stress

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About the author

Dr. Darren Bassett

Dr. Darren Bassett

Specialising in law companies, Dr Darren Bassett has an extensive knowledge of mental health in the workplace. Working with small and large organisations alike, Darren helps guide them, enabling dramatic change from within with the least drama and cost.

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