How occupational stress can affect employee health

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

By Charlotte Boffey, above, UK Head of Services, Employment Hero 

Stress is part of human nature – it’s the way our body naturally reacts to being under pressure. Some level of it is inevitable and can be a good motivator, however, too much stress is debilitating, especially when it never seems to let up. The past few years have had a significant impact on our physical and mental health. The added stresses of a post-COVID working world, as well as the financial pressures of the increasing cost of living, means that employee mental health should be a priority for all.

Every business should allocate significant effort towards creating a healthy and happy environment for their employees. Happier employees means increased productivity and less turnover and absenteeism.

Here are some key things all business leaders should know about stress in the workplace:

What is occupational stress?

Occupational stress is a term commonly used in the professional world. It refers to the progressing stress an employee experiences due to the responsibilities, conditions, environment, or other pressures of the workplace.

Major causes of occupational stress

It can be caused by a wide range of factors, which may include:

  • Strict workplace policies that make employees feel trapped
  • Restricted possibilities for personal self-growth that make the employee feel like they can’t develop within the business
  • Conflicts amongst colleagues such as bullying, belittling and discriminatory behaviour
  • A lack of support from managers and leaders
  • Being overworked or having performance expectations that far surpass an employee’s abilities
  • Regular threats of termination
  • Loss of wages, pay cuts and benefits

Signs of workplace stress 

Some signs may include:

  • A lack of motivation to complete basic tasks in the working day
  • Constantly missing deadlines
  • Frequent displays of general stress, chaos and confusion
  • Physical signs such as anxiety, noticeable changes in diet, sleeplessness and irritability
  • Inability to perform or communicate in a productive manner

Effects of occupational stress on your business

Occupational stress not only has devastating effects on the individual employee, but also on your business. Employee stress can lead to low productivity, job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, and increased employee turnover. To avoid these issues, it is imperative to check in regularly with employees. By ignoring any major warning signs, you don’t only put your employee at risk of poor mental health, but there will eventually be an even bigger negative impact on your business.

Tips on how to overcome occupational stress

  1. Control your working deadlines 

By maintaining a diligent, reasonable work pace, employees can prevent procrastination and consistently finish the tasks they begin. This means that they won’t feel overloaded, overworked or overwhelmed.

  1. Learn to push back 

Ensure your employees feel comfortable and confident enough to push back on tasks that they don’t have the capacity to do.

  1. Take a break

Make sure your employees are taking regular breaks and getting outside for some fresh air for at least 10 minutes in the day. To avoid the negative effects of occupational stress and burnout, we need time to relax, destress and return to work with a fresh mindset.

  1. Track stressors 

Take notes and identify the situations that create the most stress for employees. This will give you a better understanding of how to deal with certain situations and what you can do better in the future.

  1. Relax 

Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, regular exercise and mindfulness can help melt away work-related stress.

  1. Ask for support

Accepting help from trusted friends, family or other colleagues can improve the ability to manage stress. Employees may also have stress management resources available through an employee assistance program (EAP). If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviour.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024