Stress Management and Support

Stress Management and Support

Reasonable pressure at work can be positive and help individuals to thrive. However, work-related stress can occur when pressure exceeds a person’s capacity to cope. The stage at which excessive pressure leads to work-related stress will vary between individuals. Although stress is not a medical diagnosis, where it is prolonged, it can lead to both physical and psychological damage including anxiety and depression. Work-related stress can also aggravate an existing mental health problem, making it harder to control.

We all have a responsibility to address stress in the workplace, the Policy on the Management of Work Related Stress explains the responsibilities of both managers and employees in managing stress in the context of work and should be referred to regularly and as required. 

If you suspect or know that stress is a significant risk whether they are absent or not, you should contact Health and Safety or your HR Partner to conduct a Stress Risk Assessment.

What is stress?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them".

We all experience pressure regularly but too much pressure is detrimental to our physical and mental health. Stress is not a medical condition, but it can leave us feeling unwell and unable to cope. Stress affects us all in different ways and what causes one person stress may not cause another person stress and vice versa.

Sources of Workplace Stress

If not managed properly without clear communication, the following factors are associated with poor health and increased sickness absence:

  • Demands such as unmanageable workload and work environment.
  • Lack of control and autonomy in your work.
  • Lack of support from line management and colleagues.
  • Poor work relationships with colleagues or managers including, experiencing bullying, harassment or discrimination.
  • Uncertainty of over job role including conflicting roles and understanding elements of your job.
  • Change such as restructuring (big or small) or change in team dynamics.
Manager Responsibility in Managing Stress

All managers should proactively assess work-related stress. You may already be doing elements of this and perhaps don’t realise. Perhaps through good practices such as regular team meetings, 1-1s, appraisals and regularly checking in with colleagues encouraging open dialogue about workload and their wellbeing can help to minimise the causes of stress.

Best practise is to proactively complete a stress risk assessment and action plan for your team at least once a year or when there has been changes within the team – this can be referred to and adapted as situations arise to support both manager and employees to manage stress.

Stress risk assessment can also be completed at an individual level for members of staff who may be particularly vulnerable and require additional support.

If more than one of the stress management standards applies – e.g. Demands (including workload) and relationships or it appears to be more complicated, it is recommended that advice is sought from the Health and Safety Team to ensure appropriate support is put in place.

Please note: If your school/directorate is undergoing restructure or other major change, HR will initiate a stress risk assessment as part of the change management process.

Useful Resources:

Employee Responsibility in Managing Stress

Employees should always be open and honest with their line manager (or HR if this is more comfortable) about anything that is affecting their wellbeing in the workplace including identifying sources of stress and raising workload concerns.

It is encouraged that you schedule time with your line manager to review your workload and discuss any concerns you may have and make use of the support available to them such as occupational health, the University counselling service and the employee assistance programme as well as seeking special support from their GP as required.

Useful Resources:

  • Workload mapping: a useful tool to analyse and document your workload to support a discussion with your line manager
  • Stress bucket self refection: a visual aid for in the moment identification and management of stressors   
Recognising Signs of Stress in Yourself and Others

Stress will manifest in different ways for different people.

In yourself, you might notice you:

  • Are more tired and lethargic
  • Have increased mood swings
  • Are more irritable
  • Have low mood
  • Have increased headaches or migraines
  • Are becoming more forgetful
  • Have difficulty concentrating
  • Are more anxious

In others you might notice they: 

  • Are more withdrawn than usual
  • Are avoiding or disengaging with meetings
  • Have changes in how they speak, what they say and their language use
  • Have stopped taking care of themselves
  • Seem more lethargic or preoccupied

If you are worried about someone ask them, ask them twice, listen none judgementally, give reassurance, let them know about the services at the University that can help them and encourage them to speak to their manager.

Useful Resources:

  • Wellness action plan: a helpful tool to help us identify what keeps us well at work, what causes us to become unwell, and how to address a mental health problem at work should you be experiencing one.
Preventing and Coping with Stress

When prioritising your workload, it is important to factor in regular breaks and self-care. It can be easy to forget to look after yourself when you’re busy. Constantly working without breaks, is often counterproductive and can lead to poor-mental and physical health and cause you to burnout. 

Ways to prioritise your wellbeing:

  • Your annual leave is an entitlement, make sure you use it all and take regular breaks throughout the year.

  • Schedule activity breaks in your working week. It could be a lunchtime walk, a coffee break, meeting a friend or colleague, or participating in some of the University’s BeWell activities

  • The University recognises the many benefits of flexible working. Consider making use of the homeworking policy which may help with balancing work and personal life, reduced commuting and the impact on the environment.

  • This stress management tool may be helpful to support you when feeling stressed. You may also wish to consider undertaking one of the short stress management skills booster online courses.

  • Be aware of your contractual working week and avoid working long hours. Have a look at this guidance on How to work smarter – not harder

  • Stay organised by actively managing and organising your time, this can help you stay focused.

  • It is important to find a structure that helps you work productively and prioritise tasks. For some that may be a hybrid working approach, with a mix of working days on campus and at home. For others it may be keeping work and homelife separate and working fully on campus whether that’s within a shift pattern or 9 - 5. Your work life balance may not look the same as others, and that’s okay. Talk to your line manager to agree a structure that supports your needs, both inside and outside of the University. For more advice on work/life balance, take a look at the guidance on the Employee Assistance website.

  • Consider, as a team, what you want your team ethos to be and how you can support each other to incorporate wellbeing into your team.

Training and Development

If you would like to arrange a training session on managing stress in the workplace including how to undertake a stress risk assessment contact the Health and Safety Team.

Further training opportunities can be found here.