Managing stress in the workplace

By Raluca Enescu - 09 November 2022

Created by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) in 2018, International Stress Awareness Week advocates for better stress management and challenges the stigma associated with stress. This is particularly relevant in toxic workplaces where signs of stress can be perceived as a sign of weakness. The consequences are significant; according to the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE), of the 1.7 million workers suffering from a work-related illness in 2020-21, 822,000 were down to stress, depression or anxiety. 

In this blog post Raluca Enescu, our Manchester Service Provision & Evaluation Manager, shares some valuable advice for anyone experiencing stress as a result of work. 

Tip one: speak to your manager 

A good manager should help you problem-solve issues and find solutions. For example, if your workload is unreasonable and you feel stressed about meeting deadlines, your manager should help you decide what needs to be prioritised and what may be redistributed to colleagues or delayed. If you are stressed about a conflict with a colleague or client, your manager should address it and make sure your work environment is safe, with no bullying or harassment. And if you are feeling uncertain about your own performance or experiencing self-doubt, your manager should give you honest and constructive feedback.

How should I approach the conversation?

Be as specific as possible about what the source of your stress is; work together as a team to understand the specific causes of stress and how you may be able to address them. If you do not feel safe or comfortable talking to your manager about the stress you experience in the workplace, this could mean that you are in a toxic job, and you should give serious consideration to looking for another one.

If you are a manager, never take out your stress and worries onto your direct reports. Pass them on to your own manager - always uphill, not downhill!

Tip two: take advantage of your annual leave and sick leave as needed

This is especially relevant if you worked overtime to meet a stressful deadline and your employer allows you to take TOIL afterwards to compensate. Take it at the earliest convenience, use it to rest and regenerate. A good workplace should provide you with a reasonable work-life balance. Also remember that employers have a duty to treat sickness leave for physical and mental illness in the same way; so if stress is affecting your ability to work, you are within your rights to ask for a mental health day just like you would ask for a day off if you have a bad cold.

Tip three: Avoid skipping lunch / eating at your desk while working 

Giving yourself a break and not thinking of/interacting with your work for the duration can help you refocus and manage stress better. Furthermore, skipping lunch can cause your blood sugar levels to drop, leading you to feeling irritable, confused and fatigued, and therefore making workplace stress worse. Remember: by law, workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during their working day, if they work more than six hours a day.

Tip four: seek advice that's tailored to you 

You may find it useful to talk through how you are feeling with someone who understands the pressures specific to your occupation. This could be your manager and/or coworkers, or a dedicated service/ support group. For example, if you work for the NHS, you can call the NHS Staff support line for free on 0800 014 9995. The charity Mind also has resources, toolkits and support groups dedicated to workers in various fields, including emergency services, construction, rail transport, finance, law, education and more:

Tip five: assess what works for you

Remember that while feeling stressed out at work occasionally is part of life, and some fields, such as, say, trauma surgery,  may come with more stress than others, experiencing stress constantly and beyond what you can cope with is not normal or healthy for you. It could be a sign that you are in a toxic workplace, or even that your current job is not a good fit for you. Neither of these represent a sign of weakness or failure on your part. 

If for any reason you are unhappy in your current work or are thinking of switching jobs, Work Rights Centre can give you free and confidential advice on your rights at work, as well as employability mentoring to help you find a new job. For more information, get in touch

← News