Part 3: Spotting the signs of workplace stress

workplace stress spotting the signs
Dr. Darren Bassett
Written by Dr. Darren Bassett

Workplace stress is growing, and in this third part of my miniseries, I want to take a cursory look at the signs of workplace stress, how to spot them and the very basics of dealing with them.  



Read part one here (Part 1: Employee stress factors in the workplace)

Read part two here (Part 2: Bullying and workplace stress)

If there’s one thing that you can bank on is that you either are or know somebody who is, under stress at work. With so many studies now being carried out and pretty much all suggesting that the workplace is more stressful, it’s no small wonder that stress-related time off in the UK is getting worse.

40 percent of workplace sick days in the UK are from stress-related incidents

Figures show that 40 percent of workplace sick days in the UK are from stress-related incidents, with a worrying 42 percent of employers stating that they can see a rise in stress-related time off.

If they can see this, then why not do something about it? Well to the untrained eye it’s usually not possible to spot the signs of stress, after all, everybody is different and cope with stress in different ways. Even if you were brave enough to ask an employee or colleague if they were feeling stressed or were coping, there’s little guarantee (if any at all) that they will be honest with you for fear of being seen as weak or just not wanting others to know.

Despite the obvious issues spotting stress in the workplace, there are some signs that might not be easily hidden:

  • Sickness levels (in the last six years the number of working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety has increased by 24 percent)
  • Low morale
  • Unhappy or hostile work environment
  • Low productivity
  • High staff turnover (a quarter of people consider resigning due to stress)
  • Low company loyalty

This list is by no means exhaustive.

So what can be done? Firstly I would say that employers should take a more active role in helping staff to manage their workplace stress. Empower their employees so that they can become confident in managing their stress levels.

After all, if the employees are suffering from stress at work, this will eventually harm the overall productivity and profit of the organisation. If an employee leaves as a result of poor mental health, the organisation then has to replace that employee at a cost of time, lost hours and costs for training.

RELATED:  Part 1: Employee stress in the workplace

Managing the work-life balance

OK, ok, I know this isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially in some industries such as my speciality; law firms. If you aren’t seen to be working long hours and putting the time in, it’s very easy to see how that pressure can negatively impact an individual’s career if they are already in a poor mental health pattern.

However, it’s so vitally important that employees manage to find a way to balance their work/life, allowing them to switch off when they go home at night, leaving the office behind and not think about how much work they need to complete in the morning.

A good way to help switch off is by planning ahead.

Plan for less stress

Now I’m not suggesting that you literally book a 10-minute slot at 2:05 pm that says ‘no stress’.  But being as effective as possible in the workplace will help to reduce stress levels and more importantly enable employees to start the habits which will lead to a much healthier work-life balance.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, just by allocating times for making calls, checking emails and creating a simple to-do list to plan the working day. Better yet, prioritising tasks and deadlines will help to streamline the workday enormously and when surveyed over 90 percent of employees stated that this helped with their stress levels because they had a plan to stick to.

I have put together some worksheets you can download and print off to use, just a simple day planner, but never underestimate the power of simple.

Download day planner worksheet

Take time to unwind

This should be a ‘no-brainer’ right? After all, rest is such an important part of maintaining positive wellbeing and reducing those all-important stress levels. This is why it is so important that employees do their best to utilise their full holiday entitlement each year.

…average worker in the UK doesn’t use their full entitlement…only 11 days per year for relaxation…

Sadly though, the problem isn’t that easily dealt with.  Recent research from The London Economic (TLE), suggests our average worker in the UK doesn’t use their full entitlement, in addition, it also shows that only 11 days per year is actually used to relax.

RELATED:  Part 2: Bullying and workplace stress

These figures seem ridiculous until you delve a little deeper into the average ‘holiday’ taken by workers. Many of us (and I am included in this), use their annual allowance to get to appointments or complete chores at home rather than actually relaxing. It is very tempting to take your holiday leave in small chunks here and there to get these tasks done, but overall it’s a bad idea for your mental health. Taking small chunks doesn’t allow you time to rest and re-energise yourself, so my advice is to ensure that you use at least some of your annual leave to get a full week off work and actually relax.

You need to report negative relationships

Far too many people feel forced out of their job because of negative relationships at work, feeling that their only option is to move on and hopefully the next job will be better. Of course, this isn’t the only option, and should only be considered as a last resort, especially as under the Equity Act 2010 some types of workplace stress are considered forms of harassment and are illegal in the UK.

Anyone suffering from workplace stress or bullying should first try and sort it out informally. However, if they don’t feel confident doing this, a good way forward would be to document all instances of the negative behaviour, no matter how small it may seem. Then take this record to human resources or senior management where appropriate.



Day Planner

Day Planner Sheet


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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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