HR Expert: Getting to grips with stress at work

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My client has an employee who is struggling with stress at work. They have even been absent for it recently, and my client is keen to support them whilst they are struggling. They are also wondering what they can do to prevent stress becoming an issue for their employees?

International Stress Awareness Week runs from Monday 30 October to Friday 3 November 2023, with Stress Awareness Day falling on Wednesday 1 November 2023. This is a great opportunity for your client to review their existing practices relating to employee wellbeing and consider what more can be done to prevent and alleviate work-related stress.

There are plenty of actions employers can take to alleviate and prevent harmful stress in the workplace.

Developing an anti-stress culture

Organisational culture plays a critical role in the prevention and handling of stress. A culture that supports individuals in their work, provides enough resources to ensure deadlines and goals are realistic, promotes the values of rest and individual wellbeing and focuses on constructive criticism is not only likely to see a reduction in tress in the workforce, but also greater performance and employee retention.

Achieving the type of culture that prevents rather than creates stress can take some work, but there are some basic foundations that can help it to grow. Your client might consider introducing a stress and / or mental health policy, that sets out organisational expectations and its commitment to supporting employees should they feel stressed is a great start. Having a policy that employees and line managers can refer to helps not only promote the type of support which is accessible at work but also reassures those worried about coming forward that stress is something the organisation takes seriously, and that help will be provided for it.

Encourage openness around discussing stress is also recommended. Sharing a worry or problem can be the first step in resolving it, but this is only possible if your client’s employees feel that they are able to discuss such things openly. Senior members of your client’s organisation might want to share their own experiences of stress, to reassure their employees it’s OK to feel that way and that there won’t be any negative consequences of raising stress at work.


Line managers play a critical role in an employee’s wellbeing at work, as they are in the best position to spot signs an employee is stressed and take action to help with it. To make sure managers are effective at this, training them on supporting employees with stress is recommended. This should include how to sit down and speak to an employee about their stress so managers feel comfortable and confident in doing this.

As your client is already seeing issues of stress in their workforce, they might also consider training for all employees on stress management.

Taking action against stress

If the employees stress is serious enough to be a disability under the Equality Act 2010, ie it has a substantial and long-term effect on an individuals ability to perform day to day tasks, your client will is under a positive duty to make reasonable adjustments to the employees work. Even if it’s not a disability, adjustments can still help in getting their stress levels back under control.

Some adjustments your client might consider are:

• Adjusting the work schedule.
• Part-time working.
• Working from home.
• Re-assigning duties or workload.
• Providing a quiet space or relocating the employee’s workspace.
• Allowing additional leave for medical appointments.
• Additional training, support and one-to-one meetings.

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