Guidance on Managing Stress

June 23, 2023
Contact us
Request a call back

Stress is defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. Stress can affect a person’s physical and mental health and cause burnout, anxiety, and depression. Stress can be caused by factors at work such as conflicting demands, conflict at work, lack of support and more. Additionally, stress can be exacerbated by events outside of work such as death, divorce, mental health concerns and more.


The Law on Managing Stress

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and should look after employees’ health and wellbeing at work. Furthermore, employers must make ‘suitable and sufficient assessment’ of the health and safety risks to their employees at work, and if an organisation has five or more employees this must be written.

It is important to note that some mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression could be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and employers must make reasonable adjustments and must not discriminate. By law, a disability exists where someone has a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, and that lasts or is expected to last at least 12 months.


HSE Management Standards

The HSE’s Management Standards are a free risk management tool covering the primary sources of stress at work. Work is broken down into six key areas, which should be effectively managed in order to reduce risk of poor health and wellbeing, low productivity, and increased sickness absence. Whilst not a legal requirement following this approach will help show you have met your legal duties, you can read more here.


Managing Stress

Employees should be encouraged to speak to their managers about stress, be signposted to internal support such as a mental health champion and reminded of any external support you may have available such as a counselling helpline.

Managers should understand the signs of stress so that they can raise concerns privately in an informal, confidential way. This could include the following changes in behaviour:

  • Avoiding social events
  • Decreased mood
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Low concentration
  • Short temper
  • Tearfulness
  • Tiredness

Tips for holding a conversation about stress:

  • Arrange a private meeting that won’t be interrupted.
  • Be clear about the purpose of the chat, that it is not a disciplinary, you have concerns about stress and would like to help.
  • Ask questions like ‘How do you feel at work?’ and mention specific concerns without being confrontational.
  • The conversation can be personal and sensitive, and it is important to actively listen and be non-judgemental.
  • Encourage the individual to access professional support from their GP or similar services.
  • The conversation may require follow-up support and management.

Employees who are experiencing symptoms of stress and / or other mental health challenges, should be encouraged to complete a Wellness Action Plan or Talking Toolkit with their line manager. Both are designed to guide line-managers and employees through holding conversations, helping to identify risks, manage stress and support mental wellbeing.  Providing help early on could help to prevent more serious issues.


Additional Services for Support

PIB Risk Management offers a wide range of services that can help you manage stress at work including health & safety consultancy and access to a third-party counselling helpline. Find out more here.

We also offer training courses designed to raise awareness of mental health conditions in the workplace and how best to offer support and guidance to colleagues, including:

If you have questions about managing stress at work, please contact us.