National Stress Awareness Day: how to tackle stress at work

Today is National Stress Awareness Day 2016.

So how can we spot the signs of stress and promote a culture of workplace wellness?

Carole Spiers, founder of National Stress Awareness Day and Chair of the International Stress Management Association, said:

“The company workforce is an organisation’s most valuable resource. It is highly difficult, or often even impossible, to replace this human asset which is why ‘workforce wellness’ is an organisational imperative.”

stress in the workplace

How can stress affect performance at work?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) call stress the “health epidemic of the 21st Century” due to its impact on people and economies.


Stress is estimated to cost the UK economy £6.5 billion a year, while broader mental health issues are said to cost closer to £70 billion.

A group of leading employers, including BUPA, Procter & Gamble, RBS, BT and Mars, formed the Workwell Mental Health Champions Group.

The group seeks to increase awareness of mental health in the workplace and treat it with the same importance as physical health.

According to the Office of National Statistics, stress accounted for 35% of all work-related ill health and 43% of all sick days in 2015.

All research into the rise of stress points to one thing: people lack the confidence to speak out and businesses don’t have stress management plans in place.

How to spot the signs

Stress affects people in different ways, so it is difficult to spot from one case to the next. However, there are things to look out for, in yourself and your employees.


Emotions are the first sign someone may be suffering. People who normally don’t show much emotion may become prone to tears, while placid employees can suddenly show anger.


workplace stress

We all have our bad days. But persistent and adverse changes to an employee’s emotions and reactions could indicate a heightened stress level and should be explored in more detail. This way, if there’s a bigger problem, you can tackle it together.


Another key indicator of an employee being stressed is a change in behaviour. Things like extreme dieting, dramatic weight loss, turning to drink or drugs, even self-harming.

stress changes behaviour

Behaviour like this can be a symptom of stress, or other mental health issues as people try to regain control over some element of their life.


Employees suffering from stress may lack decisiveness or have increasingly erratic thought processes.

People who are generally lively and motivated may become apathetic and lackadaisical towards their work. People with stress often feel overwhelmed with what they have to do, both in work and in life in general.

Other signs of stress

When an employee is feeling the pressure of stress at work, there are many other signs that could help to identify and deal with the problem, they include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Tiredness
  • Problems sleeping
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Muscle tension or headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Depression

Line managers are usually best placed to recognise symptoms such as these and should be trained in stress management.

How to reduce stress at work

Managers can reduce the impact of stress upon employees in a variety of ways to keep employees happy and well.

If successful, this can also reduce the impact of loss of revenue due to stress.

Lead by example

Firstly, managers must lead by example. As leaders it is important to manage emotions and not let anger or stress rub off on employees.

stress lead by eaxmple

By striving to present yourself as calm and motivated individual, managers can give staff something to emulate. This can be achieved by allowing time to de-stress during evenings and weekends, maintaining a work/life balance.

Taking regular breaks and holidays shows employees it’s healthy to take time out to relax.

Introduce staff health and wellbeing schemes

Regular exercise and healthy lifestyles are important when it comes to combating work related stress.

Wellness schemes, which can include subsidised gym memberships, running groups, company healthy eating challenges or team building exercises that involve physical activity, can help employees unwind and feel better about themselves. This can prevent stress.

Encourage breaks

All employees are entitled to take breaks throughout the day. In fact, the law entitles them to at least a 20-minute break for every six hours worked, and 11 hours between working days.

Studies show most people are more productive if they work in 90 minute increments, with 20 minute breaks in between. It’s highly likely you will get more work, of a higher quality, from employees who are allowed to take regular rest periods.

Listen to your staff

Employees often want an opportunity to express their thoughts and share their concerns and complaints.

However, many are worried about talking to their managers because they don’t want to be seen as a ‘moaner’ or create the feeling they can’t handle their jobs.

To be an effective leader and help reduce the stress levels of your team, you need to actively promote an open door policy. Listen to your employees’ concerns and help them find solutions to work problems.

Make sure conversations focus on solutions rather than problems and ensure staff know they can be honest with you. This will help reduce stress levels for employees and managers.

Check out the Top Ten Stress Busting Tips from the International Stress Management Association.

How to create a stress free office environment

All of the above examples have been proven to reduce stress and increase productivity.

Have a stress policy

Draw one up, involving your staff in a consultation process.

Make sure it is signed off by the managing director and a  staff representative. This way, staff and managers know that there is a policy in place for dealing with and reducing stress and that stress will be taken seriously.

How Business First can help

Business First provides state-of-the-art office space, working with businesses to create bespoke solutions as well as thriving tenant communities.

If your current office provider is stressing you out, contact your nearest Business First centre manager for an informal chat about how we can help reduce stress with great offices and premium service.

Visit to find out more.