How to manage stress and mental health at work? What is the employer legal duty?


Supporting mental health has never been more important, especially with the ongoing COVID-19 situation and the impacts on mental health. In the following article, you will find guidelines to protect your workers from stress at work and to preserve their mental health.

How to define stress?

According to the Mental Health Foundation, stress is defined as the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure. The World Health Organization defines Mental Health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

Different life events or situations can cause stress, that is how our body response to pressure. Experiencing something new or unexpected can often trigger this feeling.

Stressful situations at work can be part of daily life. Coping with it through different and simple steps can help to deal with feelings of stress or burnout.

Stress hormones cause negative effects on our body and in the long term, it can affect our physical and mental health.

Employers must act on it. Indeed, protecting workers from stress at work is a legal duty for companies. Writing a risk assessment is part of it. Employers should adapt the demands to workers’ skills and knowledge and provide for example training, planning, support, …

People react differently to stress; it does not affect us the same way. Age, disability, experience, or skills are factors that can influence how we deal with it.

Role, demands, control, changes, or relationships are five main elements that can affect stress levels and that should be managed in the workplace.

What are the signs of stress?

If you’ve experienced stress, you might feel anxious, angry, aggressive, afraid, irritable, sad, frustrated, or depressed. Stress is not classified as a proper illness, but it can make you ill.

Recognising the signs of stress will help employers to take steps to manage, lower or even stop stress in their workplace.

Stress affects people differently – what stresses one person may not affect another. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may all affect whether a worker can cope.

By talking to your workers and understanding how to identify the signs of stress, you can prevent and reduce stress in your workplace.

How to identify stress?

Protecting employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it is a legal duty for employees.

Companies with less than five workers do not have anything to write down. But it remains useful to do it in case you have any updates or changes. If you have five or more workers, employers are required by law to write the assessment down.

This document should help you to communicate and manage the risks in your business.

If you think it is a big job for you, just start by listing the main points. Looking at template may help you as well to determine the main risks.

Your employer has a legal duty to assess the risks to your health from stress at work and share the results of any risk assessment with you. Your employer may follow HSE’s Management Standards approach, which help identify and manage the main causes of stress at work.

What can you do to help your workers on stress at work?

Pay attention to unusual behaviour

Spotting signs of stress is the first step. Indeed, a worker who is negative, indecisive, isolated, nervous, unable to concentrate might be under stress.

Communicate with your employees

Open communication is key in management. Indeed, keeping employees up to date regarding any changes, their own performance or expectations helps to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. The more you communicate, the more you will be able to share ideas and thoughts developing a much stronger relationship and a healthier overall company culture.

Lead by example

Leaders play an important role in the work-related stress of the workers. Showing the example by encouraging a positive work culture will help the leader to receive trust and respect from the team. By inspiring them, they will copy his behaviour. In the end, the purpose of leadership is to be the change you want to see in your organization.

Increase awareness about mental health

To help you to increase mental health awareness, we can provide you training courses accredited by Mental Health First Aid. The objectives of theses courses are to understand the common health issuers, to be able to spot signs of mental ill health and to get the skills to support positive well-being.

Check our Mental Health related courses here:

➡️ Become a Mental Health First Aider

➡️ Become a MHFA Champion

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Kelly Raboutot

Kelly Raboutot