The last few years have been a tough environment for most people in the world of work. Increasing pressure to get more jobs done with fewer personnel and the threat of redundancy left many employees struggling to cope with the daily demands that were being placed on them.
Thankfully, the economy now appears to be on the up. However, this does not necessarily mean the strain on staff will significantly ease. As companies find their business improving, many are expecting a busy period ahead - but with firms still wary about adding to their bottom line, taking on extra workers to share the burden is a risk that not everyone wants to take.
As a result, work-related stress cases have become more commonplace across the UK. In response, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has developed its own Management Standards to guide leaders on the key areas they should be paying attention to.
This is not just in the interest of workers, but also for the organisations themselves, with stress contributing to higher levels of absenteeism, personnel making more errors during their daily duties and a high employee turnover rate - of which all have the potential to increase the operating costs of a business.
The HSE's guidelines centre around six primary sources of stress at work and offer advice to managers on how these can be addressed. These problem areas are as follows:
Stress can be avoided if the employee feels as though they have more of a say on how they do their job. To encourage this, they should be empowered to use their own initiative to carry out their work when applicable, while giving them a say in when they can take their breaks is another way of tackling this issue.
It is important that a worker understands what their employer expects of them, as if this is unclear it can lead to people feeling under pressure through not knowing whether or not they are fulfilling those expectations. Similarly, if there are conflicting roles within an organisation, this can also result in problems if individuals feel as though their own role is being undermined or limited because of a flawed hierarchy.
Perhaps the most obvious cause of stress, managers need to keep a close eye on whether or not the level of demand being placed upon a worker is achievable. If they are struggling, then this should be lowered - otherwise they risk burnout.
One of the trickier aspects that business leaders may have to deal with is how colleagues interact with one another. If there are instances of disagreement that ultimately lead to unacceptable behaviour, then the appropriate response needs to be actioned. This should ensure those involved do not subsequently become stressed.
Because of the delicate economic landscape of the past few years, many businesses have changed the way they operate in order to survive. Some staff are better at adapting to this than others and employers need to ensure that all members of the workforce receive adequate communication as to how any changes will affect them. This eliminates any uncertainty and should therefore hopefully limit any stress being caused.
This doesn't just refer to support offered by the top level of an organisation, but it also extends to colleagues and line managers. A company should have effective policies and procedures in place to allow staff to confront any problems they may be experiencing or concerns they may have. Not only should this be available, but workers should also be made aware of how to access it.
What the worker can do
Of course, while there is a duty of care on the employer to limit opportunities for work-related stress to arise, there are also plenty of things that staff themselves can do to relieve the pressure.
Much of this revolves around lifestyle choices, while other advice focuses on attitude and how certain problems should be approached.
Accept what can't be changed
Sometimes, the best approach to an unsatisfactory situation is to make peace with the fact that it isn't going to be any other way and to move on.
This is because stress can often arise from fighting a battle that is seemingly impossible to win. This element of helplessness can only exacerbate feelings of pressure, at which point, it is advised to walk away and focus on matters that you do have control over.
For some, this may be as straightforward as looking for a new job, while others may want to concentrate on elements of their job they still feel comfortable with.
Talk about it
A problem shared is a problem halved, so the saying goes - and it is not far from the truth. By talking about any issues with other people, stressful situations can often be worked through and gaining another individual's perspective on what is going on at work could make a difference when it comes to how tackling the problem should be approached.
Some instances of stress also arise from feeling as though you are on your own and even if you can't reach a solution by being open about what is bothering you, it is likely you will still feel better for saying how you're feeling out loud.
There is a mantra of "work smarter, not harder" that can really make a difference to how stress is managed. In the modern office, time management skills are key and, in order for workloads not to become unbearable and deadlines not to become unachievable, prioritising the most important or urgent tasks can make a significant difference.
While this is a point that certainly affects staff, businesses can also take note by offering their personnel training on how to do this, as diary planning and other organisational skills don't come naturally to everyone.
Avoid unhealthy vices
While talking to someone might sometimes be the best way of dealing with a stressful situation, one trap that many men and women fall into - especially younger members of the office - is to turn to habits like smoking or drinking.
An obvious flaw to this form of escapism - aside from the negative health impact it can have - is that it will never get down to the route of the problem, meaning the long-term issue will never be resolved. Furthermore, these vices are likely to lead to further troubles down the line.
Learn to switch off
With modern technology making it possible to remain connected to work at all times from any location, an important skill many employees are now having to learn is how to shut off from their duties completely when they leave the office.
This can prove to be challenging when in possession of a smartphone that alerts you every time you receive emails. However, getting into the habit of using evenings, weekends and holidays to unwind instead of remotely continuing with work is something that is highly advisable.
Those who fail to do this will inevitably become increasingly fatigued over time, which will only make it harder for them to be able to carry out their duties at the best of their ability.
Taking part in physical activity is one of the most effective and easiest ways of battling stress.
One of the reasons behind this is that exercise causes the body to release endorphins, which act as happy hormones. Time spent on a run, for example, can also provide time to reflect on problems and assist in coming up with solutions to any ongoing issues.
While it is unlikely exercise will remove stress completely, it will build mental strength and make dealing with any concerns much easier.