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Work-related stress

How do we manage the risk from work-related stress?

We all experience pressure and it can help us at times with our performance in our job roles or aims, but in excess it can potentially affect our health and wellbeing.  Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. Often pressure arises from life outside work, and we all have capacities and strategies which help us deal with pressure and recover from it. However, when pressure comes from work activities or the work environment, and when it is excessive, then it can pose a risk of harm and that risk has to be managed in the workplace.  When this occurs we can find it challenging to get on with our day to day activities, including work.

It can be useful to think of work-related stress like other occupational health hazards such as excessive noise or manual handling and these can have an impact on health. The University takes seriously the need to manage work-related stress and to identify all potential sources of stress.

It is vital that potential sources of stress are identified at all levels and that, as far as possible, these are prevented or managed effectively. Preventing stress is key to ensure effective working of a team and to prevent long term sickness.

To help identify potential stressors, a risk assessment should be carried out that can then be developed into an action plan to help improve the management of work related stress.

At the University of Reading we have a collaborative approach to help teams manage the risk from stress. This is a joint effort between the Health & Safety Services (HSS) team, the Human Resources (HR) Advisory team, and the University’s Occupational Health (OH) Service.

HSS supports teams to carry out a proactive risk assessment. This can, and ideally should, be done before anyone starts experiencing the symptoms of stress or where it is anticipated stress may be triggered.  Risk assessment can be done at the team level and it looks for factors which may give rise to stress if not controlled properly. A good risk assessment then identifies effective control measures.

Ideally HSS provides help with this kind of risk assessment via the local Health & Safety Co-ordinator (HSC), as they are best placed to know the local work environment and its challenges. One tool some teams find useful is the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Talking Toolkit. It is based on the “6 Stressors” concept. Managers should look to see how they can influence these areas. If your team would like support with a stress risk assessment contact your local HSC or contact Margot Bishop in HSS.

Where an individual is already experiencing symptoms of stress it is recommended their manager refers them to the University’s OH Service. OH will explore the impact of stress, signpost to internal or external services that will support the individual.  They will also explore the causes of stress and suggest reasonable adjustments that will allow the individual to feel they are able to manage their day to day work or return to work. If you think you would benefit from occupational health advice you should speak to your line manager in the first instance.

The HR Advisory team can provide support, guidance and training to managers and employees on all aspects of managing stress in the workplace and may encourage a referral to OH Services where appropriate.

A wide range of wellbeing resources and materials are available on the University’s wellbeing page.


MB, June 2022