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Managing psychological stress in the workplace

18 March 2024

SINCE THE Factories Act of 1833, the physical health and safety of workers has been an ever-increasing priority for every UK industry. But when we clock in at the start of our workday, it’s not just our physical health that’s at risk. Marshel Rozario explains how to approach setting up a system to help manage psychological stress in the workplace.

Forklifts, machinery, heavy loads, stress, all of these things are a health and safety risk. We are less familiar with our psychological needs than with our physical needs, but as of 2022, 55% of workers believe work is getting more intense and, according to NICE, 13.7 million working days are lost every year due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression, costing UK PLC £28.3 billion every year. 

Unfortunately, there is no policy or risk assessment silver bullet to managing psychological wellbeing in the workplace. It takes training, a long-term commitment, and continuous improvement to manage it effectively. 

“Awareness is the greatest agent of change” – Eckhart Tolle

So, where do we start? First, with acknowledging the seriousness of psychological wellbeing at work, along with the typical triggers for stress. 

Common stressors fall into six broad categories:

  • Demands
  • Controls
  • Support
  • Relationships
  • Role
  • Change

Digging deeper, triggers include workload and intensity, workplace environment and culture, our working relationships, role clarity, work values butting up against personal beliefs, career development, organisational change, isolation and exclusion, external pressures, and the biggie, work/life balance. 

Next, we have to be clear that these stressors impact people in different ways.  We all have different levels of tolerance, different limits, and different stress management techniques. And our circumstances can make us more or less at risk of stress. 

Vulnerable workers are at greater risk of stress, as are workers with disabilities, older workers, younger workers, and new and expectant parents. Gender is also a factor; women are at increased risk of workplace stress. 

So, acknowledging all of this, what actions can we take?

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

The first step in addressing workplace stress, beyond acknowledging its existence and its triggers, is training support to help you develop and continually improve a system – a mechanism of support – for workers. 

Relevant NEBOSH health and safety courses include the HSE Certificate in Managing Stress at Work, and Working with Wellbeing, which RRC can, of course, train you in. 

Once you have this foundation, it’s a matter of gaining true buy-in from your organisation’s leadership. You need to take a look at your policy statement and assess how much weight it has in tackling stress. And you need to appoint steering groups that can continually reinvigorate your efforts. 

Once you’ve gathered and analysed data to identify the specific risk factors at your organisation, it’s a matter of organising and prioritising quick wins, assigning long-term actions, and communicating your plan within your organisation. And this point about communication is no afterthought. 

Long-term, managing psychological stress in the workplace is a matter of creating an environment that prioritises open conversation, where it’s OK to raise issues. Allow time for conversation and have a solution-focused approach to dealing with issues raised. 

Protecting the psychological wellbeing of your workforce will protect your organisation. It’s not simple, but it’s well worth the effort. 

Marshel Rozario is a consultant at RRC International. For more information, visit www.rrc.co.uk