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How to talk to your boss about work-related stress

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Photo: People Images/Getty

It’s not always easy to talk to your boss about something that is worrying you, especially if it’s to do with work. But with so many Brits struggling with work-related stress, being able to speak to your employer without fear of judgement is important.

Work-related stress, anxiety or depression accounts for over half of all working days lost due to ill health in the UK. According to figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/18 as a result, up from 12.5 million last year. This equates to 57.3% of the 26.8 million work days lost to ill health.

A little bit of stress is normal when it comes to work, and it can even make us more productive. But if it’s taking over your life – leading you to dread going to work, or affecting your mental health – then it’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

Taking steps to improve your wellbeing, such as meditating, exercising regularly and cutting down on alcohol, can help. But it can be helpful to address the problem head on if your stress is work-related. Speaking to your boss about the reasons why you’re struggling – for example, increasing workload or hectic time schedules – can help.

Be as clear as you can

When approaching your employer aim to be as clear and specific as possible. It can be helpful to keep a note of times when you’re felt particularly stressed – such as pressures to meet targets – and write how it impacted your mood.

“Before speaking to your employer, identify and ask yourself what are you stressed about in particular,” says Raghav Parkash, a performance and life coach and mental health advocate. “What’s on your mind and what do you find the most challenging or an obstacle for you in the workplace?”

By doing this, he adds, you will get more clarity about the way you are feeling – and it will help your employer support you to the best of their ability.

Think of reasonable ways to tackle the stress

Employers are bound by the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of their staff. If you feel like your mental health state is preventing you from doing your job, it’s best to try to reach an agreement with your employer. It can be useful to share what you think will help you with your employer, so you can fulfil your job and perform your job better.

“There may be a number of resources or services your company can provide but to help you navigate stress in the best way, it will be definitely worthwhile exploring what you feel you need personally,” Parkash explains. “Could this be working remotely from home one to two days a week or more, a change to the working hours, more mentoring, lightening the workload – what do you need?”

Jolene Foley, HR manager at Vouchercloud, adds: “Given that many people still feel this is still a difficult topic to bring up, think about writing down how you’re feeling. Be clear in your communication, too. You should focus on: what the problem is, what impact this problem is having on your day to day, how you believe this issue can be remedied, and is this a short-term or longer term challenge?”

Note the impact on your mental health

It’s also important to note the impact of stress if you already struggle with a mental health problem. In a recent survey of 2,000 people by Chemist 4 U, more than half said stress at work makes existing mental health conditions worse.

“For those suffering from mental health conditions in particular, employers should be mindful of how stress and pressure can affect their employees on a personal level,” says Samir Patel, pharmacist and founder of Chemist 4 U.

“In our study, almost 60% of people we spoke to who identified as having a mental health condition said that work stress can make them feel worse. Employers need to be mindful of this and place their employee’s wellbeing in priority.”

Ask for support when you need it

“Once you have taken the first step of speaking to your manager or director, allow yourself to have a support network in place and ask for help as and when you need it,” Parkash says.

One thing we take for granted or even assume, is that your employer doesn’t experience any stress, he adds. “This is far from true and what you’ll often find by having speaking to your managers or directors is that they also go through stress regularly and have been through exactly where you are right now.”