In 2020/21, 822,000 workers in the UK experienced work-related stress, depression or anxiety, according to a report by government agency The Health and Safety Executive. 

The figures, taken from the Labour Force Survey run by the Office for National Statistics, show the rate of self-reported work-related stress has increased since the coronavirus pandemic. 

Of the 822,000 workers reporting work-related stress, an estimated 449,000 said this was caused or made worse by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The main factors mentioned by respondents included tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support. 

We’ve spoken to our Trusted Traders and our legal and wellness helpline to give some advice for employers and employees on dealing with stress in the workplace.

What are the signs of stress in the workplace?

According to not-for-profit organisation The Stress Management Society, some telltale signs indicating that an employee is stressed include:

  • extroverts becoming withdrawn
  • becoming more accident prone
  • becoming short-tempered.

The organisation said everyone has ‘bad days’, so you would look to see if these negative changes are displayed for a period of time.

There are also signs that can indicate if your workplace is stressed as a whole. These include: 

  • high staff turnover
  • increased absenteeism and sickness levels
  • long-hours work culture
  • employees not taking their full holiday entitlement
  • low productivity and efficiency.

Top tips to manage workplace stress 

Our wellness helpline has shared some top tips for employers and employees on workplace stress. 

Get moving

Even a little regular exercise can help ease stress, boost your mood and improve your self-esteem. 

Aim for 30 minutes on most days, broken up into short 10-minute bursts if that’s easier. 

If you work on your feet all day, exercise may be the last thing on your mind. You may assume that, because your job is so demanding, you take regular physical activity for granted. 

But it’s still important to take measures to avoid chronic problems and injuries. See if you can do 10 minutes of stretching before or after work, and consider working on strength training at the gym or at home with online tutorials. 

You could also track your exercise on the job with a fitness tracker. Your phone may log steps automatically, so check this out before investing in a separate one (and make sure whichever device you choose is accurate). Which? has reviews you can read on fitness trackers. 

An easy way for employers to promote exercise in the workplace is to introduce active travel policies promoting walking, cycling, flexible working and incentive schemes. 

According to the government, there is strong evidence for the effectiveness of interventions to increase stair use. Simple signs near any lifts can point out that two minutes of stair climbing each day could burn enough calories to eliminate the weight an average adult gains each year. 

Practice a relaxation technique 

If you’re an employee, try to take time to relax each day and give your mind a break from worry. 

Meditating, breathing exercises, or other relaxation techniques are excellent ways to relieve stress and restore some balance to your life.

If you’re an employer, could you set up subscriptions for your employees to mindfulness apps such as Headspace and Calm?

You could also let your staff know about any free resources they can access. Mental health charity Mind has some free resources for both employers and employees. 

Don’t skimp on sleep 

Improving sleep will help your mind and body. 

If you’re an employer, there are steps you can take to reduce fatigue and tiredness in your workplace.

If the firm has shift patterns, let employees have a say if you can, and try to be considerate with not assigning any one person too many night shifts if they can be shared around. 

If you’re an employee, you may not have much say on your hours and you may be required to work antisocial hours and night shifts. 

The Health and Safety Executive has given some advice on how night-shift workers can have a better sleeping environment. 

It says to invest in heavy curtains or blackout blinds, discuss your work pattern with your neighbours to see if they will avoid noisy work, disconnecting the phone and using an answer machine, asking your family not to disturb you and avoiding using the bedroom to watch television or eat. 

If you struggle to get to sleep, the NHS has audio guides on sleep problems you can listen to for free

Promote healthy eating 

According to Public Health England, employers can promote healthy eating by providing suitable washing facilities for crockery and utensils and an appropriate space to reheat and store food. 

Drinking-water facilities should also be available throughout the workplace.

You could also provide fruit for your employees to encourage healthy eating. 

If you’re an employee, a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and omega-3s can help to support your mood and improve your energy and outlook. And you don’t have to spend a fortune – there are ways to eat well on a budget.

See if you can take a packed lunch into work as it will stop you buying and snacking on junk food.

Share your story 

Employers should encourage open communication and two-way feedback in the workplace as it will encourage more workers to share and open up. 

If you’re an employee, turning a problem around and around in your head often leads to a dead end, or worse, increased feelings of stress and anxiety. 

Sharing the weight of your thoughts with someone else will help you reflect on it in a clearer and more logical way. 

Also consider writing your feelings down on paper. This can really help to rationalise how you are feeling.

What our Trusted Traders are doing to promote staff wellbeing 

We asked our Trusted Traders what processes they had in place to reduce stress and promote mental health in the workplace. Here are a few examples:

Introduce an open-door policy

Both Strata Windows in Stoke-on-Trent and MG Window Systems Ltd based in Northampton told us they have introduced open door policies. 

An open-door policy indicates to employees that a supervisor or manager is open to an employee’s questions, complaints, suggestions and challenges. It should encourage open communication, feedback and discussions about any concerns. 

Train mental health first-aiders

Both Saltire Healthcare and Tincknell Heating based in the South West told us they have trained mental health officers for their workplace providing a dedicated person that employees can speak to.

Relaxation and massage 

Gareth Jones, CEO of UK Leisure Living Group in North Wales, said he recently offered all his staff an hour-long massage with a massage therapist, and he also pays for counselling sessions and hypnotherapy. 

Find out more about our Which TT members helpline

The wellness helpline is a confidential telephone counselling service that Which? Trusted Trader members can call to talk to a trained counsellor about any troubles. 

Whether it’s worries about your business or other financial problems, health issues, a bereavement, addiction or any other personal matter, counsellors are available to listen.

The service is provided by ARAG and is free to use for all standard Which? Trusted Trader members and your immediate families.