How are you feeling today? Midweek slump as the emails begin to pile up? Had your fill of meetings? You’re not alone. Today is National Stress Awareness Day and our stress levels are getting higher, according to new research.
Research by mental health charity Mind shows that more than half of the UK’s workforce are experiencing high levels of stress at in their jobs. In fact, workplace issues affect 56% of survey respondents, making them a bigger cause of stress than financial problems (38%), health (29%) or relationships (20%).
Unsurprisingly, excessive workloads cause the most problems to employees, with poor management, the threat of redundancy and unrealistic targets all cited as causes of stress. Workplace issues are then impacting on our personal lives, with one in five respondents saying it had put a strain on their relationship and 53% agreeing that it affected their sleep patterns.
“This research reveals the scale of stress among employees. What is really worrying is not just the prevalence of stress and mental health problems at work, but that staff don’t feel supported to help cope with workplace stress,” says Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind.
Are mental health issues taboo at work?
Despite workplace stress affecting so many people, employees still see mental health issues as a taboo. In fact, just 5% of employees who take time off sick for stress tell their bosses the real reason why, with an overwhelming 95% giving other reasons such as a headache or upset stomach.
With many workers hiding mental health issues from their employees and feeling unable to discuss their problems openly, its unsurprising that some are turning to unhealthy coping strategies such as drinking and smoking.
“We know employers are starting to take mental health issues at work more seriously, but clearly still have a long way to go in helping tackle the cause of stress and poor mental health at work. People still don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health at work or telling their employer if they’ve been off sick with stress,” says Emma.
“Yet many staff will be affected by these issues. That’s why it’s so important that organisations proactively manage staff wellbeing, and create an open culture where their employees are able to talk about wellbeing without fear of discrimination or being perceived as weak or incapable,” she adds.
Sue Warman is HR director at business analytics firm SAS. She believes that ignoring stress in the workplace is shortsighted, with many more options open to leaders.
“There are multiple ways to combat stress. First, from an HR and business leadership perspective: how do we arrange the workforce and structure the handoffs in the work?”
“Then the more obvious measures: training is a huge part that companies often underestimate. Give people more skills so that they don’t get so burnt out. Companies need to invest in training and not jump to pressures of billability too quickly. There are young people coming into roles, they’re trying to do everything that’s asked of them, but without the appropriate skillset. This leads to stress.”
With working hours in the UK among the longest in Europe, stress levels are only set to grow. So how can you cope with workplace stress?
As our workplaces diversify and become more disjointed – think working from home, emails on your mobile and cloud computing – we need to become more flexible and adaptable to new ideas.
Be open about your feelings
Sharing your concerns and problems is the easiest way to deal with workplace stress. Talk to friends, family or colleagues. Many workplaces are investing in dedicated counsellors, so consider speaking to them too.
Identify what stresses you out
Working out what triggers your stress is the first step to learning how to deal with it. Be aware of the thoughts, actions and tasks that make you stressed at work out how you can deal with them.