We need to find ways to manage stress at work

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Have you ever felt stressed because of work?

It appears a stupid question on the surface. Of course you have, we all have surely? The standard Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘work’ gives several examples about people becoming tired, having to put in anti-social or longer hours or engage in tasks when in their own home – all of which can put strains on other areas of life. But then, isn’t that what work is all about?

Well, not necessarily. Everyone might have the odd day every so often which proves stressful and challenging, but if work is becoming a constant battle which is ultimately having a strain on your health, then it may be time to change the working environment you are in. If it’s the people around you causing the stress, then a new job may be just what the doctor ordered, but if it’s the work itself that is proving insurmountable, then suitable training and upskilling in your career might help to make your job more achievable.

With this year’s World Mental Health Day, focusing on mental health in the workplace, we spoke to professionals in the accounting and bookkeeping industry to find out their perspective on stress in the workplace. Nearly half (43%) of those people we spoke to admitted that they have suffered from stress on a frequent or regular basis at some stage in their career.

When talking with finance professionals recently, we also asked the extent to which stress at work at any point in their career had developed, in terms of physically needing to take time off. Here’s what we found:

Again, while those individuals in accountancy who have never had to take time off due to stress still dominate the survey, the amount who have – some one in three people – is itself a cause for concern. However, recent research from Mind produced even more startling figures suggesting that some 42 per cent of workers have considered resigning due to stress and mental health. In addition, around one in eight respondents to our survey run their own small business, which can add many layers of complexity having to manage all aspects of a company, including administration, marketing, interacting with technology and legal requirements. For these people, advice tools such as Informi can prove invaluable.

But for employees rather than entrepreneurs, the question of how long you can take the strain before you crack simply shouldn’t be one that you need to answer.  According to Business in the Community, three in four employees across all industries have experienced symptoms of poor mental health. It’s crucial that if you’re in a position where taking time off work due to stress is something you have either already done or are close to doing, you should act now to make a change.

How to act

Firstly, speak with your manager. They may have no idea that you are struggling and in truth, keeping an eye on your wellbeing is part of their managerial duty.

We spoke with Annie Donovan, Chief Executive of KIM Inspire, a non-profit organisation that aims to provide routes to emotional well-being through activities and group work, about this. “Managers can keep an eye on workloads, on people’s time, so staff are not over working and have a healthy balance with their home life. It’s useful for managers to look at activities which could release stress for their staff, like time for some exercise or doing something a bit different. There’s lots of things that managers can do to help make things better for their team,” she said.

If talking to your manager doesn’t work, then contact your HR department, who should be well-trained and prepared to discuss health issues with you – be they issues caused by work or pre-existing conditions that you might have.

It’s quite possible that your employer already has a stress at work policy, aiming to provide an environment where employees can get the necessary support mechanisms that they require. Indeed, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to take reasonable steps to look after mental health and welfare, in order to enable you to cope with the normal day-to-day pressures of your job. Flexible working, increased holiday entitlements, and an employee counselling service are all provisions made by some workplaces as options to help deal with the impact of workplace stress.

Consider learning and development opportunities. Your stress may well be caused by your inability to deal with certain tasks that you meet on a regular basis. There may be quick fixes out there – it might even be that the technology exists to take some of the burden off your existing in-tray.

If you’re still not getting anywhere, then considering a change of job could help. This will give you a whole new environment, the time and ability to learn new procedures and ways of working, and a new team and potential support network around you on a daily basis.

Finally, changing career entirely could see you find something you enjoy doing, which lets you wake up every morning and feel excited about the day ahead, rather than dreading it.

In any event, trust your own mind with any action you take. Annie Donovan also told us,“It’s usually the person who is struggling with mental health who will know the kind of things they need, what will take the pressure off and alleviate some stress.”

According to the Health and Safety Executive, “Being under a certain amount of pressure can have a positive impact on work performance; however, if the pressure becomes excessive, it can lead to stress, which may have a detrimental effect on physical and mental health.” Stress may indeed be defined as a ‘disability’ under the Disability Discrimination Act in some circumstances, so if you’re suffering from it, the decision you take shouldn’t be taken lightly. Seeking help is a must, but if this doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to consider a change of scene as the best thing for your health.

* AAT surveyed 417 students, licensed members and professional members via its ‘Green Room’ polling facility between 20 September and 3 October 2017.

Adam Harwood is AAT's Media Relations Manager.

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