Tackling the rapid rise in stress in the workplace Skip To Content

Tackling the rapid rise in stress in the workplace

Date Posted: 15th May 2019

Your job can provide a great sense of fulfilment and satisfaction, but if things get too intense it can seriously affect your mental wellbeing. Here, a leading doctor at St Joseph’s Hospital in Newport explains why a good work-life balance is so important.

A SURVEY commissioned for Mental Health Awareness Week found three-quarters (74%) of British people have, at some point, felt so stressed they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

Work is a big contributor to this, with a 2017 study of UK adults discovering that 38% of people reported being stressed about work.

The same survey found stress can impact on our overall mental health. More than half of adults who felt stressed reported feeling depressed, and 61% reported feeling anxious.

But what’s causing the rise in workplace stress, and how can we reduce it?

Dr Leonie Jones, practitioner health psychologist in the Corporate Wellness Centre of Excellence at St Joseph’s Hospital in Newport, said: “We spend a huge amount of time at work, and while we know fulfilment at work can be beneficial to mental health, it’s not surprising that work is often a large contributor to stress.

“For many of us, stress is part and parcel of our everyday working life, but it has increasingly been shown to have a negative impact on our mental health.

“During my time as a psychologist, I’ve seen the number of people seeking treatment for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety rise year-on-year, and the pressures of the modern workplace could be partially to blame.

“Advances in technology, including computers, emails and mobile phones, mean we’re working at a much faster pace than ever before.

“We’re expected to respond to requests quickly, produce more in a shorter space of time and work long hours to meet deadlines.”

She said modern technology also makes it increasingly difficult to switch off from work.

“Being provided with work phones and laptops can put pressure on employees to take work home, rather than taking time in the evenings to rest.

“The lines between work and personal life are becoming increasingly blurred, so it’s unsurprising we’ve seen a rise in the number of people suffering from stress, and conditions like depression and anxiety which can be induced and worsened by stress.”

For many companies, stress is actually a risk factor, said Dr Jones.

“Employees suffering from stress can be more susceptible to illness and are more likely to take sick leave.

“In 2016-17, workplace stress accounted for an average of 23.9 work days lost for every person affected.

“It’s therefore in everyone’s best interests, not just those of the employee, for employers to take action. Tackling pressure to work longer hours could make a huge difference to the mental wellbeing of employees.”

Countries in Scandinavia have undertaken two-year trials into shorter working hours in recognition that more rest time means employees have more energy, are happier and can produce a higher standard of work in a shorter space of time.

“In the UK our working week does not show any signs of changing,” Dr Jones added.

“Employers should encourage employees not to take work home with them, turn off work phones when they aren’t on call and leave laptops in the office.

“Simple things like emphasising the importance of taking a lunch break, or leaving on time, could make a positive difference.”

She said many larger companies already have services in place to support the mental health of employees such as confidential helplines.

But services teaching employees to selfmanage their wellbeing are also beneficial. Dr Jones said: “Counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and stress management courses are all effective ways of teaching employees how to manage their own stress levels in the long-term.

“At St Joseph’s Hospital’s Corporate Wellness Centre of Excellence, experienced practitioners are able to offer bespoke courses and workshops which teach employees how to self-manage.

“For employers with high levels of sickness absence due to workplace stress, the occupational health team can work to create bespoke packages aimed at reducing sickness levels and promoting employee health and wellbeing.

“This can include assessments, getting people back into work and suggesting adjustments to hours and working patterns and referrals to counsellors or psychologists.

“And for anyone feeling overwhelmed by stress at work, try to prioritise rest time outside of work hours. Something which works particularly well for me is one technology free day every week, to allow myself time to relax and regroup away from the pressures of the phone, email and the temptation to work.”

Anxiety and Depression

Symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • a churning feeling in your stomach
  • feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • pins and needles
  • feeling restless or unable to sit still
  • headaches, backache or other aches and pains
  • faster breathing
  • a fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
  • sweating or hot flushes
  • problems sleeping
  • having panic attacks

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • feeling down, upset or tearful
  • being restless, agitated or irritable
  • isolated and unable to relate to other people
  • finding no pleasure in life or things you usually enjoy
  • a sense of unreality
  • no self-confidence or self-esteem
  • finding it difficult to speak or think clearly
  • difficulty in remembering or concentrating on things
  • difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • feeling tired all the time
  • no appetite and losing weight, or eating too much and gaining weight
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