This short guide looks at the causes of stress and burnout, recognising stress and burnout in yourself or others around you and practical strategies for managing stress and workload.
The often-quoted HSE definition of work-related stress is the ‘adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work’. It is generally recognised that work is good for us and a degree of pressure and challenge at work is healthy. Work-related stress can, however, be the result when a person no longer feels able to manage the demands on them.
Unsurprisingly, work-related stress – although not an illness in itself – can result in lengthy periods of absence from work as well as poor staff retention as staff leave to reduce their exposure to excessive stress. It can also develop into mental or physical illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, addiction or heart disease. Figures from the Office for National Statistics consistently show that stress is one of the top causes of sickness absence in the UK labour market.
Burnout generally results from lengthy periods of stress but it does not manifest in the same way as stress. It is essentially a state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion characterised by apathy, lack of motivation and a general feeling of hopelessness.
Absence management surveys tend to suggest that the main causes of stress at work are around excessive workload, personal or family issues, management style, poor working relationships or large amounts of organisational change or restructuring.
The HSE has identified six factors that can lead to work-related stress if not managed properly. These are:
|Demands||Employees indicate that they are able to cope with the demands of their jobs.|
|Control||Employees indicate that they are able to have a say about the way they do their work.|
|Support||Employees indicate that they receive adequate information and support from their colleagues and superiors.|
|Relationships||Employees indicate that they are not subjected to unacceptable behaviours, e.g. bullying at work. Relationship difficulties can be one of the biggest sources of stress.|
|Role||Employees indicate that they understand their role and responsibilities. These are generally the easiest problems to solve.|
|Change||Employees indicate that the organisation engages them frequently when undergoing an organisational change.|
The HSE points to the following symptoms as indicators that an individual is feeling the effects of stress:
Signs that a group of staff may be experiencing stress include:
Burnout tends to manifest differently to stress although some of the symptoms above are typical of both and an intense period of stress tends to be the prelude to burnout. An employee suffering burnout may:
Being able to recognise the early signs of stress both in yourself and others means that efforts can be made to improve the situation before levels of stress escalate to the level where the individual can no longer cope and sickness absence is the result.
There are strategies which managers can use to help tackle the root causes of stress at work and you can find out more about these in our guide, Promoting Positive Mental Health in the Workplace.
This guidance is focussed on personal coping strategies which can use yourself or suggest to others.
STEP 1: Understand your personal pressure points
STEP 2: Your plan
STEP 3: Taking action