A Manager's Guide to Stress In The Workplace

Roughly half a million people in the UK suffer from workplace stress, with stressed workers taking an astonishing 12.5 million days off work.

Many workers respond to stress in the workplace by increasing their output – working harder, longer hours, or even taking work home, which only results in exasperating stressful symptoms and contributes to additional mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Typically, workplace stress is the result of an unsustainable definition of success. This puts pressure on us as workers to meet these high standards, which can subsequently create a culture of burnout, taking its toll on our well-being, creativity and productivity.

Stress can be incredibly challenging for people to cope with and can also be difficult for those around it to understand how to support their coworkers, especially in high-pressure, fast-paced work environments. For some, stress can be contagious, and for others, it can cause them to close off to avoid any uncomfortable situations.

When we feel supported, though, studies show the effects of stress on our behaviour, thoughts, and feelings can:

“Enhance resilience to stress, help protect against developing trauma-related psychopathology and decrease the functional consequences of trauma-induced disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Conversely, if people don’t feel supported, it can worsen long-term mental illnesses and severely impact an individual’s productivity, performance and wellbeing in the workplace.

First, let’s look at some common workplace stress symptoms that can arise across all the disorders:

  • Decreased productivity

  • Moodiness or fluctuations in mood

  • Extended sick leave

  • Withdrawal from colleagues

  • Constantly expressing tiredness

  • Decreased job satisfaction

  • Inability to focus on tasks or problems

  • Increased use of stimulants like coffee or nicotine

  • Unexplained aches and pains
When does work-related stress and worry become a problem
In what has been some of the hardest few years for many people, managers who are looking to increase well-being in their teams can look first at how stress is managed in the workplace.

It’s important to state here that we all experience stress in varying degrees, and workplace stress is not always a bad thing. This concept is often referred to as “eustress” or positive stress.

In many situations, a moderate amount of stress can actually enhance performance. Stress can serve as a motivator to accomplish tasks or make necessary changes. For example, if someone feels stressed about an upcoming presentation, that stress might motivate them to prepare thoroughly, ensuring they deliver an effective speech.

Facing and overcoming challenges can increase our resilience, so each time we confront stress and navigate through it, we learn more about our capabilities and build confidence in our ability to handle future challenges.

Continues below. 

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Mental Health Experts Share #1 Action To Reduce Stress in the Workplace

Without community support, feelings of social isolation and loneliness can affect a person’s mental health, particularly when these feelings are longstanding, and research suggests that it is associated with an increased risk of:


When it comes to offering and establishing further support and taking additional steps to help staff with workplace stress or mental health problems, several options are available.


One of the first steps a business can take is to open communication between the employees and management teams, where everyone can communicate if and how they might be coping with work stressors.

Monthly well-being check-ins between team members and managers are an excellent practice to implement, providing ongoing employee/management touchpoints and keeping up to date with each employee’s life.

Providing regular opportunities to communicate issues and reduce any stigma surrounding mental health can help employees feel supported enough to raise issues in the future and feel comfortable enough to ask for help when needed.

Establish different workspaces

There are clear benefits to creating spaces within the office for socialising and relaxing, separate from working areas.

These separate spaces encourage occasional, advantageous breaks – which are necessary to reduce stress – while they can also boost productivity and help employees sustain a more positive mental state. This may look different for every organisation but acknowledge that some people work best under different conditions.

For example, some people need a quiet space to think or meditate on ideas, while others find busy and highly stimulating environments the most conducive to problem-solving.

Separating spaces is not just for the office either but is a good practice for employees working remotely or doing hybrid work. Encourage employees to create their own spaces where possible, one that separates their workspace from areas used for relaxing or breaks.

Mental health training

To further reduce the stigma of mental health in the workplace, investing in mental health training programs equips managers and leadership teams with the knowledge, skills and clinically-led best practices for identifying when a coworker might be struggling.

Mental health training provides practical solutions and actions to follow that address any problem. Onebright offers businesses many training options, including stress management, which introduces mental health and well-being education elements into best practices with bespoke solutions that help address problems unique to your requirements.

Furthermore, partnering with an expert mental health organisation like Onebright can provide employees additional support with online and in-person access to a wide range of therapies from accredited clinicians.

Taking stress seriously in the workplace

The workforce is changing. We have seen from ‘The Great Resignation’ that millions of people worldwide left their jobs to explore healthier, more balanced and meaningful work options. The pandemic unveiled a greater understanding of how people now seek more significant purpose and support in their work lives.

Organisations taking the lead are now offering mental health benefits like mental health training for managers and business leaders, optional funded therapy sessions and programs for teams to help build resilience when you have stressed employees. 

But statistics reveal that hiring managers seriously underestimate how important the mental health policies of an employer are when choosing a role. Just 42% believed that their mental health strategies would be important to candidates when considering a new job. 

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Common beliefs that make stressed employees choose not to talk about their mental health struggles include: 

  • Decision-making will be questioned
  • Being judged if needing to take time off sick
  • Colleagues will have to pick up the extra workload, which will cause resentment
  • Colleagues may treat you differently and worry about saying the wrong thing or be afraid of causing offence
  • It’s a ‘home’ issue, not a ‘work’ issue
    • Being seen as weak or a failure

  • Subconscious bias from managers
  • Fear of discrimination / not belonging
  • A career being affected, overlooked for promotions or new roles

What is a workplace mental health audit?

If you haven’t heard of a workplace wellbeing audit, sometimes called a mental health audit, there is now a new way to measure the impact mental health is having on your organisation.

Our organisational audits provide a customised workforce survey and review, ranging from a quick temperature check of organisational wellbeing to a detailed screening of current staff mental health.

A mental health audit will help you address key issues and drive up performance. From regular health checks to customised training, referral for treatment, or even placing dedicated therapists in-house – our support guarantees a positive return, both financially and through the wellbeing of your staff.

What are the benefits of an employee wellbeing audit?

Optimise budgets spent on employee wellbeing
Give insights into where the risks are
Understand where additional support is required
Insights into employee absenteesim
Prepare for any issues that might arise
Improve productivity and company culture

Reducing the stigma of workplace stress

It’s time to get rid of the fear. As employers, there exists an opportunity to dispel these myths by making conversations surrounding mental health at work the norm. It all starts with the right mental health training. Line managers and business leaders often feel uncomfortable starting a conversation about mental health or worry about giving the ‘wrong’ response if someone does disclose their mental health issues to them.

Results from a recent poll in the Healthier Nation Index found that 66% of people would not share their mental health struggles with their employers. It also found that despite 37% of respondents saying their mental health had worsened over the last year, a third were not offered any mental health support or emotional wellbeing resources in the workplace.

Hidden Cost of Ignoring Work Stress in Your Mental Health Policy

Mental health training for line managers should include:

Spotting the signs – How to spot behavioural changes and symptoms if an employee suffers from mental health issues
Communication skills – How to talk about it and what words are best to use/avoid.
Workplace adjustments and return to work – training for managers to help people stay at work where possible or integrate individuals back into the team for an effective and successful return to work
"Employees are often reluctant to ask for support due to uncertainty and worry about the consequences of disclosing a mental health issue. The challenge now is to ensure that employees feel safe to talk about how they feel and are confident that the support offered will have a meaningful and lasting impact."
– Sarah Carter, Head of Account Management Onebright.

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3 CBT Tips to Manage Stress

What first-time managers can do about digital burnout and exhaustion in the workplace

1)    Take time out to prioritise

When we start to see our to-do list extend with extra tasks as the hours go by, this can increase our stress levels and leave us feeling overwhelmed and out of control.

Not everything is a priority.  Take some time out to make a list of your crucial tasks that need action before the end of the day and separate them from the non-time-sensitive tasks. This automatically gives you a better chance of feeling in control and breaking down your list into manageable tasks. Once you have a list of things that need your immediate attention, you can begin to shift your focus on completing them and accept that the tasks at the bottom of your list will be addressed eventually.

2) Monitor your mood

Mood monitoring is one of the most important CBT exercises. It not only helps you process your feelings towards a certain event or situation but also encourages you to reflect on particular behaviour patterns that can cause you to feel a certain way.

If you find yourself dwelling on your thoughts (aka ruminating) over your workload or stressful events coming up at work, you might find it useful to do this quick mood-monitoring exercise. Take a piece of paper and a pen and give yourself five minutes to do the following:

1)    Write down the stressful or upsetting event (e.g. big presentation at work)

2)    Write down all of the feelings you are experiencing when you think about this event (e.g. guilt, anxiety, nervousness, shame), then rate each feeling between 1 and 100, with 100 being utterly overwhelming.

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3)    Finally, spend the remaining time documenting every thought that is going through your head. (e.g., “I am unprepared”, “it won’t be any good”, “I don’t have time”, “I have let the team down”)

4)    Fold the paper up and place it away for a day or so.

5)    Revisit the paper after a few days and look over what you wrote

This exercise can be a great way of teaching yourself to fully experience your emotions and document all your thoughts and feelings that come along with every negative experience in your life. By putting the paper aside and coming back to it once you have had a chance to process your feelings and let your emotions subdue a bit, you are likely to notice a negative pattern in your thinking. This could be distorted thoughts, black-and-white thinking, or even catastrophising.

3)    Focus on the controllable and adopt positive, balanced reframing

When we feel overwhelmed at work, it’s easy to focus on the factors we can’t control – our boss piling on too much work, our unhelpful colleagues or even our stagnant wages. Spending too much of our time focusing on the uncontrollable sets us up to feel exhausted and less than our best, further increasing our stress levels.

Taking the time out to do a quick reframing exercise can be a good way to remind yourself of all the things you can control and regain some power.

Positive reframing is not positive thinking and mantras) but taking wider facts into consideration – to arrive at an alternative balanced view. It works by retraining yourself to view seemingly negative situations in an alternative light and not skewed by how you are feeling emotionally. For example, where one person might be thought of as bossy, the positive framing of that would be a good director or natural leader, but headstrong people will need a bit of extra ‘managing’ to capture their strengths.

Here is an example of positive reframing that can help in a stressful work situation.


A big project is due at work, which requires lots of details


This is too much work for one person. Why did my boss think I was capable of doing this alone? I’ve had no support or direction. I’m going to mess this up


Anxious, irritable, depressed


Avoid doing the project. Procrastination. Not leaving enough time to research the project.

Alternative thought

This is a lot to do, I have always delivered challenges like this before.  Although this is a difficult project, I’m flattered my boss thinks so highly of me that they have trusted me with such an important task.

To give myself the best possible chance to succeed, I’ll see this as a chance to prove my worth and give myself enough time to do the research this needs. I’m excited to take on this new challenge and to have been given the opportunity to develop my skills. This might be too much, but I can always reach out for help if needed, I need to schedule my time realistically and find out what I can and cannot do.

Choose Onebright for Supporting Stressed Employees

Once the conversation has started with an employee about mental health, it’s essential to keep it going. One solution may be to put a buddy system in place, offering stressed employees access to those who have received mental health training or have relevant experience and can act as a friend, mentors or guides.

More structured support may also be available. For example, corporate Private Medical Insurance policies. These can sometimes provide fully funded Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insured employees suffering from mental health issues to help prevent absence or help them recover from long-term absence.

Partnering with a mental health provider, such as Onebright, can provide psychological support services for managing workplace stress, with access to a highly effective range of evidence-based psychological therapies. Employers who take mental health and wellbeing seriously send out a clear message about the organisation’s values and show that they care, respect and support their stressed employees.

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