How to deal with stress at work

Studies show that stress at work is often caused by long hours, fears over job security, work relationships and lack of resources. Here are some solutions.

In the UK, we lose more than 11 million days at work each year because of job-related stress 1, making it one of the leading single causes of workplace absence.

Sufferers can experience any of a range of symptoms, including persistent headaches, insomnia, skin conditions and gastrointestinal issues. Stress has also been linked to heart attacks, strokes, hypertension and susceptibility to infections 2.

So, what causes workplace stress and how can you avoid it?

A University of Plymouth study 3 identified four main causes of occupational stress:

  1. Long hours  
  2. Job security 
  3. Work relationships 
  4. Resources and communications

If you feel like one of these is at the root of your job-related stress, here are some options that can help you resolve the issue:

Long hours

A Trades Union Congress study found that UK employees collectively work £31.5 billion of unpaid overtime in a year 4. It's a problem that particularly affects those working in education, finance and in the public sector.

While it can be difficult to make an immediate change to your working hours, taking regular, proper breaks can ease the pressure. It's also advised to avoid skipping meals, as this will add to the fatigue caused by long hours.

Job security

There are numerous reasons why people unavoidably lose their jobs or income, including redundancy to long-term sickness. While these aren't preventable, you can take out Income Protection Insurance to help you financially if you're unable to work through illness or injury.

If you believe your stress is caused by financial worries, having protection in place could give you more peace of mind should the worst happen.

Work relationships

Working with difficult people is a stressful problem many of us encounter in our careers. You can't always choose who you deal with, but there are things you can do to minimise the impact on you.

For example, choosing face-to-face conversations over email or calls helps to build a personal rapport and reduce negativity in your interactions.

It can also help to have a strong social network. Forming relationships with people in your organisation you get on well with can take the focus off the more difficult ones.

Resources and communications

Many people feel that they’re unable to perform their job effectively due to poor management, lack of training and lack of equipment or resources, leading to stress.

You may be able to tackle this through your organisation, by having conversations with those able to influence it.

If you’re unable to handle the cause of the problem directly, you might need to try other solutions. There’s plenty you can do outside of work that has a positive influence over your wellbeing, so take enough time out, switch off work emails and try to exercise regularly.

The NHS recommends the act of taking control and finding solutions as a stress buster 5. Identify where you can take action, for example by protecting your income or increasing your physical activity. In the most extreme cases, it may be worth a career change to protect your health.

If work stress continues to be an issue for you, get an appointment with your GP to discuss what would be the best course of action.