Managing Workplace Stress Before it Becomes Critical 

Businessman experiencing stress and anxiety

By Helen Snowden-Smith

This article addresses the escalating issue of employee stress and its economic impact, costing the UK economy £28 billion. It identifies key stressors and underscores the need for proactive employer strategies, including improved support systems and mental health initiatives, to enhance well-being and reduce stress-related economic losses. 

Employee stress represents an increasingly serious concern for businesses, and it can be caused by various factors. According to the latest Champion Health Workplace Health Report, workload, lack of control over work, and lack of support from employers are the three biggest sources of stress at work.  

Rising stress levels, if not properly addressed, can significantly affect employee well-being, engagement, and retention, leading to problematic consequences, including an uptick in staff missing work. According to a report by the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD), stress is a leading cause of workplace absenteeism. It typically results in employees calling in sick more frequently, which not only impacts operational efficiency but also places an additional workload on their colleagues, leading to further business challenges.  

The ripple effects of employee stress can also quickly turn into stress for the wider market environment. Data and economic modelling conducted by AXA UK and the Centre for Business and Economic Research (Cebr) uncovered the profound impact of burnout and work-related stress on the UK economy in recent years. It’s estimated that poor mental health at work cost the UK economy a staggering £28 billion in 2022 alone. The primary contributor to this hefty sum is the loss of working days attributable to stress, burnout, and overall mental health issues. These amounted to 23.3 million lost working days across businesses and underline the huge toll stress is having on employees across the UK. 

Chronic stress is also a key driver behind employees deciding to leave their jobs. The costs associated with recruiting, hiring, and training new staff can be substantial, not to mention the loss of institutional knowledge and experience when employees depart.  

Allied with the impact of cost of living, evolving hybrid working patterns and the problems Gen Z face entering the workforce after a disrupted education, increased stress in the workplace represents a hazardous cocktail with unpredictable consequences. In response, it’s crucial that employers understand their role in mitigating these challenges, and they must ensure the right steps are taken to help alleviate work-related stressors. 

Finding solutions to the challenges  

The key to navigating workplace stress is actively recognising it before it becomes a critical issue. Management and HR teams can do this by providing a supportive environment that aims to build healthy relationships among employees and offering ample opportunities for assisting employees when difficulties naturally arise.  

With many still working in a hybrid pattern or completely remote, maintaining relationships and understanding how work is impacting individuals’ mental health requires more effort. HR can play a vital role in regularly checking in with staff through one-on-one meetings, surveys, and anonymous question platforms. This allows employees to privately share elements of stress that they may be facing and gives leadership insights into how policies could be adjusted, fostering a culture of proactive support and adaptation. 

Further to this, by implementing strategies such as training for management and staff, increasing face-to-face time, and engaging external support, companies can build an inclusive environment that meets the needs of both employer and employees.  

Looking after employees 

It is key that HR also focuses on supporting wellbeing. In the new world of work, it is no longer enough to have general wellness programs. HR can lead the way by becoming qualified mental health first responders, with the skills to offer initial support and guide affected individuals towards professional help. 

Another strategy is examining workload and work-life balance policies. The transition to hybrid work has blurred boundaries for many. With the flexibility to work from anywhere, employees often find themselves working beyond traditional office hours. 

HR should explore whether remote work, or days dedicated to volunteering could help relieve pressures at home and work that contribute to stress. Proactively implementing family-friendly benefits and communicating expectations around off-hours communication can also help prevent burnout. 

Equally, while remote work offers flexibility and potential stress reduction, it requires innovative strategies to maintain team cohesion and engagement. Implementing processes and tactics such as virtual all employee team meetings to provide key updates, clear communication, and inclusive decision-making can help ensure that remote employees feel connected and supported. 

Additionally, providing Employee Assistance Programmes enables companies to offer remote support to staff, including valuable help such as remote GP appointments, mental health support and lifestyle training. This coupled with HR readily available to provide any additional support needed will help promote health and wellbeing support. 

Finding a way forward 

Managing workplace stress demands a comprehensive approach that addresses immediate work-related stressors and broader issues such as the dynamics of remote work and the risk of long-term burnout.  

By fostering a culture that values support, flexibility, and staff well-being, companies can enhance employee satisfaction and retention, thereby mitigating the risks associated with workplace stress. It is key that businesses recognise and address workplace stress proactively. In doing so, they can create a resilient, motivated workforce capable of thriving in the modern work landscape.

About the Author

HelenHelen Snowden-Smith, HR Director at Symatrix: She worked in HR for 14 years now, dedicating herself to making a meaningful impact on individuals’ personal and professional lives. 

Guiding employees through their entire work life-cycle, she has witnessed countless success stories.  Being a catalyst for positive change in company culture is her driver and nothing gives her greater pleasure than watching a company expand and evolve. She is on a constant journey of learning and expanding my passion for HR. She genuinely love what she does! 

Off the clock, she loves family time with her husband and two energetic boys. Running keeps her on her toes, and she is gearing up for her second half marathon. She is an ‘anything and everything’ enthusiast when it comes to movies and music.


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