Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
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Loughborough University

Human Resources

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Occupational Stress - Guidelines for Employees

Loughborough University wants to ensure that all employees understand about pressure, how it can lead to stress (work-related stress in particular) and how to control it.  This guidance aims to help individuals understand how to take effective control and also to give information on all the resources and support available to employees.

This is a complex issue, often involving work, home and external matters and also how individuals cope with these.  Often an individual does not recognise that there is a problem until they feel their health becomes affected.  

Where work factors are involved, always discuss the issues with your line manger first and see what can be done to help in your work area.  All line management, including Deans of Schools and Heads of Support Sections will know about the ‘Management of Workplace Pressure Policy’ and have responsibility for implementing this.  Your HR Adviser is also able to provide you with confidential support.

What is "Pressure" and when does it become "Stress"?

Life places demands and pressures on everyone.  Appropriate amounts can stimulate and motivate, especially in the workplace - hopefully overall with beneficial effects.  If demands and pressures are too great, they can, in anyone, induce the harmful or potentially harmful mental and physical feelings and reactions commonly known as stress. 

The following are extracts from the Health and Safety Executive’s publication, Stress at Work:  A Guide for Employers (reference HS(G)1160.  This defines work-related stress as "….the reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed upon them". 

Stress can involve:

  • Physical effects, such as raised heart rate, increased sweating, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, aching neck and shoulders, skin rashes and a lowering of resistance to infection;
  • Behavioural and mental effects including increased anxiety and irritability, a tendency to drink more alcohol and smoke more, difficulty sleeping, poor concentration, an inability to deal calmly with everyday tasks and situations, a reduction in intellectual functioning and an impairment of creativity and problem solving skills.

"These effects are usually short-lived and cause no lasting harm.  When the pressures recede, there is a quick return to normal.

Stress is not therefore the same as ill health.  However, in some cases, particularly where pressures are intense and continue for some time, the effects of stress can be more sustained and far more damaging, leading to longer-term psychological problems and physical ill health."

What are the signs?

It can be helpful to recognise the signs of stress in ourselves, our family and our friends and colleagues.  Remember that these signs can arise for other reasons too, so consult your GP if problems persist.

Signs of stress affecting us physically:

  • headaches and migraines
  • panic attacks
  • backache – muscle tension
  • breathlessness, dizziness
  • lowered resistance to infection – frequent coughs and colds
  • high blood pressure
  • feeling tired all the time, sleep problems (sleeping too much or not enough)
  • digestive problems, stomach upsets

Signs of stress affecting us emotionally:

  • feeling anxious, tense, worried
  • irritable, moody, angry
  • confused, forgetful
  • mind constantly buzzing, never calm, hyperactive, over-excited
  • depressed, low, withdrawn, unmotivated, apathetic

Signs of stress showing in our behaviour:

  • making more mistakes, lowered performance at work
  • getting anxious about being anxious
  • lowered interest in sex
  • getting into conflict, snapping at others
  • bursting into tears
  • eating/drinking/smoking more than usual
  • less able to multi-task, cope with interruptions

Some sources of pressure

The following are examples of situations which may lead to an individual feeling they are experiencing excessive pressure and being unable to cope.  Remember that lots of small problems can often add up and have the same effect as a single major problem.  Our capacity for coping will also vary from time to time, and so there may be times in our life when we have a higher or lower stress threshold.  Be aware that others may have different feelings about similar situations and therefore may react differently.

Home

  • workload or pressure of demand from other family members
  • responsibilities e.g. care of children
  • changes e.g. child leaving home, care of older family member
  • illness
  • bereavement
  • marital problems
  • loneliness

Lifestyle

  • too much caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, sugar, saturated fats
  • too little exercise
  • not enough fun, play, relaxation

Life Events

Major life events can be stressors even if they are pleasant.  Some examples of major stressors include:

  • getting married/divorced
  • moving house
  • birth of a new baby
  • retirement
  • holidays
  • religious holidays and festivals      

Work

  • workload or pressure of demand
  • deadlines and schedules
  • management communication style/feeling respected
  • unresolved conflicts
  • changes imposed without consultation/preparation
  • work environment: noise, light, heat etc.
  • travel problems
  • boredom or lack of stimulation – this can be just as stressful as overload

How to cope

Take responsibility! Take Action!

Bear in mind that all of us are likely to feel stress at various points in our lives and may need some help.  It’s not a case of trying to prevent stress;  it's a case of how you deal with it that matters.

Also remember that the stress response is the body’s natural way of reacting to perceived threat or danger, so there are four main ways that we can manage our stress: 

Change the environment to prevent/remove the stress

Useful strategies include:

  • Discussion with your line manager           
  • Prioritising
  • Time management *
  • Saying "No" or "Not Yet" to people
  • Asking for help
  • Ensuring you take your breaks, lunchtimes, holidays
  • Learning assertiveness, time management etc. skills (via Staff Development)

Reduce the Fear/Tension by talking it through with someone - for example, manager, colleague, friend, counsellor

  • Maybe the worries are not life-threatening
  • If they are life-threatening or perceived as life-threatening, generate ways of getting help
  • Talking it out helps stop circular thinking
  • Release the feelings: laugh and cry
  • Explore another perspective
  • Set some goals (for next week, next month, next year) 

Change the Stress Response in your Body through Relaxation and Exercise

  • Breathing exercises (see appendix 1)
  • Relaxation tapes, CDs
  • Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi
  • Exercise – walk, dance, sports, run, swim etc.
  • Sleep
  • Complementary therapies e.g. Bach Flower Remedies, Reflexology, Massage
  • Aromatherapy e.g. Lavender Oil 

Build up your Resistance

  • Take personal time to relax
  • Eat well
  • Have a good work/life balance with time for interests, hobbies, sports
  • Have creative space
  • Stroke a pet
  • Listen to music
  • Go for walks, get fresh air
  • List your personal ways to unwind
  • Give yourself positive messages: “I know I can cope” and “I’ve dealt successfully with difficult situations before”.
  • AVOID negative personal messages: “it’s too hard” or “I’ll give it a go but it probably won’t work…”
  • Work on feeling happy with who you are.  It is your expectations that matter, not those of others
  • Remind yourself that you do not have to be perfect, you can be `good enough’
  • If you notice that you are always criticising yourself, practice giving yourself praise and recognition.
  • Self-development, Resilience and Mindfulness courses (via Staff Development, see Section 6 below)

You might like to add strategies that are important to you and you might like to try out some new ones.  It is always tough trying things out when you are in the middle of feeling stressed.  If this is the case, then do talk with someone – your manager, a friend, your GP, a counsellor – and this may help.

Sources of support at Loughborough University

Always discuss with your line manager first and see what can be done to help in your School, department or support section.  If your manager is not aware that you have concerns, he or she is unable to take any action to tackle the issues.  The University is committed to managing Occupational Stress, and so you should not be afraid to raise valid concerns.

You can also contact any of these direct: 

  • Human Resources

For advice for all staff including employees, managers, Heads of Department, Deans, Operations Managers and also referrals to Occupational Health, please contact your HR Adviser

This service is completely confidential, available to all staff and free. 

Tel. 01509 222418 or e-mail ucs@lboro.ac.uk.  Note that this is not a 24 hour service.

There is also a useful list of external agencies on their website.

  • Occupational Health

For any advice and support regarding the effects of work on health, or where an employee’s health is impacting on their work. tel: 222851 or e-mail occupationalhealth@lboro.ac.uk Note that this is not a 24 hour service.

For information and advice on training on stress management, meditation and so on, tel. ext 2381 or e-mail sd@lboro.ac.uk

  • Other Loughborough University resources

Staff and Student Wellbeing website

  • Your Trade Union Representatives
  1. Loughborough Branch of the University and College Union (LUCU) - for academic and related staff, including research staff and those in the management and specialist job family. 
  2. Unite - for technical staff. 
  3. Unison - for staff in the administrative and operational services job families.

Other useful sources of support

Stress: "The fight or flight response" and how to change it

Stress:  "The fight or flight response" and how to deal with it.

It is useful to know what is happening in our bodies when we feel stressed.  This can help us get more of a handle on it to help change things.

When we see danger or a threat (and this can be real or imaginary), our body automatically goes into a state of high alert.  This is called the “fight or flight response”.  It has ensured the survival of the human race.

The conscious, intellectual part of our brain perceives the threat and sends a signal to the automatic part of our brain which causes the release of various stress hormones such as adrenalin into the blood.  These enable lots of changes to happen quickly to give us a massive surge of energy to save us from the danger.  We put up a fight or run for our lives.  We can perform amazing feats of strength and once we burn off the energy in doing these things our body returns to normal. 

Short-term stress is not harmful.  Unfortunately, modern life means that the pressures are often longer term and our body is constantly in a high alert state.  Even more unfortunately, modern day problems tend to be hampered, rather than helped, by the fight or flight response.

The effects on our bodies:

  • heartbeat increases to pump the blood faster round our bodies
  • the circulation is more directed to the big muscles and less goes to our extremities (we literally get cold feet when scared)
  • we breathe quickly and shallowly, taking in more oxygen
  • our liver secretes stored sugar into the blood
  • the pupils dilate to let in more light
  • all the senses are heightened and muscles tense for movement
  • blood flow to the digestive organs is restricted
  • there is an urge to empty bladder, bowel, stomach (less weight to carry if running for your life)
  • the body perspires more to cool you down as all the above heats the body up
  • we feel tight, tense, anxious
  • it can be harder to think clearly

All these effects are invaluable if we need the physical strength to run away from a wild animal.  They do not help us in problem-solving situations.

How to deal with it: 

The good news is that if we are aware of all this, then we can use our conscious, aware brain to help change things.  The part of our body that we have easy voluntary control over is our breathing.  If we breathe slowly and deeply with the emphasis on the out breath, then we decrease the amount of oxygen in the blood and increase the amount of carbon dioxide.  This gives a signal to the rest of the body that the high-alert situation is over and so things return to normal.

This is why breathing exercises are the basis of relaxation skills, pain control, meditation, child-birth, post-surgery healing etc.

When we are relaxed, the blood flows freely round the whole body, including the brain and we can think clearly, creatively and problem-solve. 

An easy exercise is to breathe in to the count of four and then out to the count of eight.  Do this regularly throughout the day if you feel stressed.

See the Self-Help Resources section in the University Counselling and Disability Service web pages for more information on Anxiety and on Panic Attacks.    www.lboro.ac.uk/services/cds/counselling/

 

Employee flowchart

Pressure is building up... HELP!

This could be either a work issue causing you stress symptoms, or a problem at home impacting on your ability to work as well as you would like (e.g. relationships, financial, legal matters)

1. Talk to your line manager, gain support, attempt to resolve work related matters

Quite often an understanding ear from your manager can help, it appraises them of the situation and also gives them an opportunity to help.  They could even consider short term adjustments, help re-organise your workload, and provide any other support that may be reasonable under the circumstances.

2.  If problem is with line manager, or you don’t feel you can talk to them.    Discuss with trusted friend/colleague/senior manager.   Approach your HR Advisor if required IN CONFIDENCE:  Consider 3-way meeting between you, manager and HR

3. Consider all other options for support

UNIVERSITY

EXTERNAL:

Take the "money health check" at www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

 

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Tel: 01509 222169

Fax: 01509 223903