Managing Stress

The University recognises that staff may at times experience levels of stress. Stress can be harmful and can have a detrimental effect upon both the individual concerned and the University. Managers, employees and colleagues are expected to all be committed to understanding and addressing stress.

  • Responsibility for managing stress

    It is the responsibility of any employee who considers that they are suffering from the harmful effects of stress to raise this matter with their line manager and/or HR.

    In return it is the expectation of the University that when a line manager is approached by an employee with regard to a concern over the harmful levels of stress at work, they will set aside time to meet with the individual and discuss the issues in a positive and supportive manner. They will show empathy, give advice and consider any proposed changes to the job and/or working practices.

    It will be our joint responsibility to understand and identify potential stressors in the workplace and, where necessary, conduct risk assessments in order to eliminate, reduce or control the risks from stress.

    The following resources have been developed to support employees and management.

    Guidance for Managers – Managing Stress

  • What is stress?

    People often get confused about the difference between pressure and stress. We all experience pressure regularly – it creates a ‘buzz’ that can motivate us to perform at our best. ‘Stress’ itself is not a medical condition; it is clearly distinct from pressure and is defined as 'the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them’. It is when we experience too much pressure and feel unable to cope that stress can result.

    The pressures of working life can lead to stress if they are excessive or long term. Causes of stress at work include excessive workload, inadequate training, a lack of control or autonomy and poor working relationships.

    Stress is a very individual thing. A situation or set of demands which stresses one person may not stress another person and vice versa. Also a set of demands or pressures which cause a person stress at one point in their life may not cause stress at another point – often because they will have developed the resources to handle the future pressures effectively.

  • Workplace factors that contribute to stress
    • Excessive workload
    • Responsibility without authority
    • Insufficient opportunities for participation
    • Lack of managerial support
    • Poor work relationships with colleagues or manager
    • Personality conflicts
    • Bullying, harassment or discrimination
    • Poor communications
    • Continual or rapid change
    • Insufficient training
    • Lack of job security
    • Frustrated career development

  • Your personality and stress

    Two people can be faced with an identical situation and one person will experience stress whilst another may not. It is all down to how the person will perceive the situation, which may be due to their personality and how they approach problems. Research has shown that the people who are more likely to experience stress are those who can identify with some or all of the following:

    • Have perfectionist tendencies
    • Are highly impatient
    • Always have to be right
    • Blame themselves or others for everything that goes wrong
    • Seek constant recognition for what they do
    • Feel they have to do everything themselves
    • Get upset over important tasks
    • Worry about possible misfortune
  • Recognising the signs

    Here are some of the potential symptoms that you may experience if you’re beginning to suffer with stress:

    • Mood swings
    • Headaches or migraines
    • Outburst of temper
    • Sleeplessness
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Anxiety
    • Low energy levels

    Persistent debilitating stress may also lead to high blood pressure, a lowered immune system, heart disease, exhaustion, depression and other mental health problems. The key is to try to turn stressful thoughts that make us feel overwhelmed and disempowered into positive action.

  • Preventing and coping with stress

    Try and turn stressful thoughts that make us feel overwhelmed and disempowered into positive action. By embracing stress, and using it to motivate us to succeed, it can help us achieve great things and move forward in life. Turning negative stress into positive action:

    • Managing your day: Make a list of the things you have to do and do the more urgent ones first. Vary dull jobs with interesting ones. Don’t try to do too many things at once – this can lead to mistakes.
    • Relax: Take time to pause and relax. Eat healthily and drink plenty of water. Go for a walk.
    • Think about your achievements: Reflect on your day and what you did well. Stop worrying about what still needs to be done, focus on what you have done.
    • Accept what you can’t change: You can’t always change things, so focus on activities that allow you the option to influence things. Avoid getting frustrated – and taking this out on others.

    Stress can actually play a positive role in our lives. Having challenging goals that make us stretch outside of our normal comfort zone can assist in motivating us and allowing us to achieve good delivery. We will all suffer some degree of stress but we have to make sure it does not take over or start to control our life.

    Don’t keep your feelings to yourself. You should talk to your line manager or HR Business Partner Team for advice and support. Your line manager can only help to improve the situation if they know about it.

  • Absence due to stress

    Line managers should maintain reasonable contact with staff during the course of their absence. It may be appropriate for a line manager to arrange a home visit to discuss how we can help an individual get better; this is often with HR present to offer additional assistance.

    An immediate referral to our occupational health provider will be made where stress is given as the reason for absence. It is therefore important that line managers contact your HR Business Partner as soon as possible where they become aware of such sickness absences.

    The employee may need to attend an appointment with occupational health. Occupational Health may ask the employee for permission to obtain a report from their doctor. A report will then be provided to HR with the objective of providing both HR and the line manager with sufficient medical information to enable a decision to be made as to how to proceed (what amounts to sufficient medical information will depend on the circumstances of each case).

    The University may conduct a stress risk assessment to help identify what the stressors are where these relate to work.

    The University can then work with you where practicable to minimise these effects and make any reasonable adjustments.