The top three causes of workplace stress and how to solve them

Workplace stress

Our recent Mental Health in the Workplace Report revealed that more than four in ten (42.4%) employees suffer from stress. When we asked them to share the underlying cause of workplace stress; the top three reported reasons were:

  • Increased workload (38.2%)
  • Financial concerns (17.9%)
  • Workplace bullying (9.5%)

Given that more than half (55.3%) said their job has become more stressful in the last five years, we think it’s important that these issues are addressed now before they spiral out of control. Below we will address each issue and suggest some practical steps employers and HR managers can take towards resolving the cause and minimising employee stress in the process.

Increased workload
Of the employees we spoke to, increased workload was by far the biggest cause of workplace stress with almost four in ten (38.2%) naming it the leading cause. Other relating causes were also cited including hitting deadlines (8.7%), managing people (4.2%) and managing clients (3.7%).

An unmanageable and increased workload can leave employees frazzled and feeling like they aren’t achieving anything. The end result is burnout which the Mental Health Foundation agrees can affect employee mental health: “The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population.”

To avoid that, here are some ways you can help stressed employees manage a heavy workload:

  • Time management training: Some people are naturally more organised and adept at manging their time them others. Offer training to those who would benefit from it or encourage colleagues to share strategies amongst themselves.
  • Implement morning briefings: Having clear priorities is a big part of effectively managing workload. Implement a short morning briefing (split into departments if your organisation is large) which allows each staff member to discuss their priority for the day. This allows the manager to have an overview of what is getting done each day and to change the course immediately if necessary.
  • Offer quiet areas: Many people (particularly introverts) cannot focus and get work done in a busy, loud environment. Make sure you have at least one silent space where employees can get their head down and crack on without being interrupted. If you don’t have such a space, consider allowing your employees to work from home when they need to conduct deep work.
  • Use task management software: If you don’t already, start using a task management system so that projects and individual tasks can be tracked. This allows everyone an overview and can ensure that tasks get completed on time.
  • Make them feel valued – there’s only one thing worse than managing the stress of a seemingly never-ending workload – and that’s working all hours for it not to be appreciated. If employees’ feel that going the extra mile is being noticed and rewarded it can go a long way to turn stress into satisfaction. Remember therefore to recognise and praise employees if they’ve gone above and beyond on a particular job, or if they’ve been putting in extra effort and hours.

Financial concerns
Nearly two in ten employees we spoke to said financial concerns were the leading cause of workplace stress. A further 6.8% cited job insecurity as their top concerns, which may well be linked.

It’s not surprising that many employees are stressed about money; the average UK household owes £12,887, before taking their mortgage into account. And unsecured debt as a percentage of household income has reached 27.4%, which is the highest figure in eight years. The NHS states that feeling low or anxious is a normal response to struggling with debt. And Mind is keen to point out the catch 22 situation: “Money and mental health are often linked. Poor mental health can make managing money harder and worrying about money can make your mental health worse.”

So with that in mind, here are some practical steps you can take to help your employees’ financial situation.

  • Pay them on time: It goes without saying that this will help employees manage their finances. While most businesses always pay on time as a matter of principal, it should be every businesses priority.
  • Support: Provide your employees access to an Employee Assistance Programme specialising in finances. They will be able to help recommend relevant resources on everything from debt management to financial assistance.
  • Affordable loans: It is often cheaper to pay for big ticket items upfront rather than spread the costs out. For example, if an employee needs to purchase an annual train ticket you could pay the lump sum and they could pay you back each month.
  • Offer telecommuting: Commuting is expensive and time-consuming. Free up your employees time and money by offering telecommuting for a day or two each week.
  • Training and education: Budgeting, managing debts and generally getting to grip with finances are skills which some people are yet to develop. You can encourage your staff to better understand their finances by providing them with training opportunities. From an online ‘fitness wellness’ course to a financial management workshop, there are plenty of training options you can use to support your workforce.
  • Pensions: While auto-enrolment is helping to encourage employees to plan for their future, it’s estimated that between 8 – 10% of employees are choosing to opt out. You could help your workforce understand the importance of planning for their financial future by running a Q&A session with them (and allowing answers to be submitted anonymously beforehand to avoid any embarrassment).

Workplace bullying
Almost one in ten employees said workplace bullying was the number one cause of workplace stress. Bullying can have devastating consequences; the Workplace Bullying Institute states that victims can suffer from a whole host of very serious mental health issues including anxiety, panic attacks, depression and PTSD. Unfortunately, workplace bullying is commonplace with some estimates of those affected as high as 75%. Bullying is clearly bad news for employee wellbeing, but it also costs business money too. It’s estimated by ACAS that bullying-related absence, staff turnover and productivity costs businesses around £18 billion a year. Here are some strategies you can use to put an end to current workplace bullying and stop it happening in the future:

  • Lead by example: Demonstrate a zero tolerance approach to bullying by having senior team members set the standards and any issues identified and dealt with. If bullying behaviour is unacceptable at the top level this should help establish an anti-bullying culture throughout the business.
  • Write a formal anti-bullying policy: Make it crystal clear that bullying isn’t acceptable by writing out a formal policy and circulating it amongst staff. Include relevant procedures, expected standards and the consequences of bullying. And then stick to it.
  • Raise awareness: Show your commitment to creating an anti-bullying culture by raising awareness about the issue. This could be achieved through your workplace newsletter or hosting an anti-bullying event.

By taking the top three causes of workplace stress and analysing them, it’s clear that they each affect employee mental health. An increased workload leads to higher stress levels which can result in burning out. Serious financial concerns can threaten an employee’s basic needs and leave them sleepless with worry.  And workplace bullying can leave the victim dealing with all sorts of complicated mental health issues.

Of course, these are only the top three causes of workplace stress. In reality, it is often a combination of issues which take their toll on employee mental health. As such, a more holistic approach to managing employee mental health is required and the first step you can take is to create a clear policy on the topic. This will go a long way towards establishing an ongoing culture of openness around mental health.

As our report shows, currently less than one in ten employees suffering from a mental health condition would confide in their employer. To address this, employers need to make it clear that discussing mental health is important and nothing to be ashamed of.  Managers should communicate that talking about mental health will lead to support and not discrimination. This could be achieved through normalising conversation around mental health in the workplace and actively encouraging discussion.

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If you’d like to learn more about employee mental health and what you can do to help, download our free Mental Health in the Workplace Report.

This content originally appeared on Benenden’s workplace hub where employers can find a range of related articles to help with their health and wellbeing strategy.