Workplace Stress: Why Aren’t We Happy at Work?

Ah, Monday. The day so many of us dread. The start of another week, where we will be pushed to our limits at work and be left too tired and worn out to do anything but vegetate on the sofa at the weekend. But why? Why do our collective stomachs sink at the prospect of a new working week? Why is such a large proportion of the employed members of society unhappy to be going back to work? Surely, we should be enthusiastic. In the world today, you can pursue a career in very nearly anything you want; fostering creativity and passion in a way we’ve never done before. It’s easier than ever to get a job in a sector that you truly care about – so why are we not looking forward to going into the office? Although all of us are different, in particular when it comes to mental health, an undeniable fact is that workplace stress plays a large role in all our lives.

Stress comes in many shapes and forms, triggered by personal situations, social anxiety or a whole other range of factors; but 15.4 million working days are still lost in the UK due to workplace stress, depression or anxiety. There’s definitely something about modern employment that messes with our mental health. Feeling stressed at work can manifest itself in the following ways:

  • feeling that you can’t cope
  • finding it hard to concentrate and remember things
  • lacking confidence
  • not feeling motivated or committed
  • feeling disappointed with yourself
  • indecisiveness

These are just some of the common signs that you could be experiencing work-related stress. Realistically you could face a whole range of physical symptoms, as well as the mental ill-health, including:

  • feeling tired and lacking energy
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • aches and pains
  • indigestion and nausea
  • headaches
  • putting on, or losing weight
  • chest pains or tightness in your chest
  • losing the desire to have sex
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It’s more than just that one annoying co-worker who never makes a brew.

While many people won’t notice one specific cause for their work-related stress and instead credit it to the build-up of pressure from a series of smaller issues, there are some main reasons for feeling stressed at work that a lot of us will recognise:

  • an excessive workload or unrealistic deadlines
  • long working hours
  • difficult relationships with colleagues
  • poor management
  • having too much or too little to do
  • a lack of control in your working environment
  • being unclear about your job role and what you’re meant to do
  • bullying at work
  • being under pressure to meet deadlines
  • being in the wrong job for your skills, abilities and expectations

Work-induced stress can also come about from a lack of financial stability, if you are in a low-paying job or one without the security of continued employment. There seems to be a bill around every corner, making the prospect of uncertain income deeply stressful. This can be made even worse if you are facing an immensely high workload every day. Working on countless projects or cases daily for what feels like unfair compensation will wear away at your self-esteem and leave you feeling unvalued in your current position.

The people you work with or around will undoubtedly play a role too. There are colleagues who can treat you like a subordinate and increase your workload for no real reason except they want to be difficult. Co-workers who either refuse to help you out or consistently demand support on their own projects affect your working pattern, making you feel overstretched and exhausted. There will also be managers with unrealistic expectations, those who micro-manage, nit-pick problems wherever they can, change your area of responsibility at a moment’s notice or refuse to provide you with the necessary training…. the list could go on and on.

In social work and care there is a perfect storm of vast funding issues and a recruitment drought, leaving professionals covering dozens of cases each without the opportunity for real financial remuneration. It also doesn’t help that many managers are given responsibility over too many areas, meaning that they have less time to effectively supervise their employees, leaving both parties overworked and stressed. The difficulty in finding relevant training which makes practitioners anxious about being up to date with the latest practices also comes into play – the main drive behind One Stop Social offering an extensive training catalogue across the country! It’s clear that the employment standards across the UK in our sector need some amendments, so that we are no longer one of the industries with levels well over the average rates of workplace stress.

How can we combat it?

Workplace stress can be overwhelming. You know you need your job to afford rent, bills and food but the day-to-day struggles slowly wreak havoc on your stability. Therefore, it’s vital you develop mechanisms to process the stress and deal with it in a healthy manner, in order to protect your overall mental health.

Ensuring you maintain a healthy work-life balance is key. If you’re passionate about your job then this can be difficult, but you need to find time to switch off and spend time with your family, friends or taking part in an enjoyable hobby. Work should be something we enjoy yes, but it shouldn’t be our whole lives. That is an unsustainable and unhealthy level of commitment.

Mindfulness is a great tool being adopted across the country, whether in official workplace yoga classes or individuals taking time to destress with a mindful colouring book or meditation session. In particular in the sector we are in, it’s an excellent way to check in with your emotions and understand how a particularly tough day at work is taking its toll on us.

We're not in this alone...

A key thing to remember is that while individual coping techniques are important, and you need to find what works for you, we also need to face this as a collective. And like any battle, the fight against workplace stress needs a strategy. We need a unified plan which ensures that every worker is protected, no matter what industry or company size. Our policies at the moment can sometimes be seen as a double-edged sword: if you are experiencing stress at work, you have the right to take time off for your mental health, but there is a stigma. You’re subliminally seen as weaker, less competent or incapable; which could impact future progression opportunities and workplace dynamics with colleagues or supervisors. So let’s work on the workplace culture surrounding mental health. If we allow workers to feel like human beings in the office, they will not only feel less worried if they do have to take time off, but it’ll also make the overall environment more supportive, thereby reducing a level of stress.

A final thought is that workplaces need to do more. There are some offices across the UK which have meditation sessions, flexible working hours, capable managers who adapt their style to suit you and employee engagement schemes; but this isn’t everywhere. Besides, there’s a level of judgement about offices like that. They’re mocked as the “hipster”, ineffective or lazy workplaces; but in actual fact, they just recognise the need to treat their workers as people who need more. Financial security is key, but mental health is brought about by many reasons, so managers need to understand that it’s up to them to prevent stress. In social work and care this can feel like a rare find, as there is such emphasis placed on the service users who we work with, that at times, the practitioners themselves can be overlooked. We need some serious changes to the way we divide workloads, coordinate teams and reward employees. Otherwise, we’ll work our professionals out of the game, and then the fantastic work we do to help the vulnerable people in the UK will be lost.

While you're here...

Are you looking for new ways to engage your employees to reduce workplace stress? Professionals value the sense of being a part of a committed community, working towards something important; so why not consider joining our social work collective? We’re the modern voice of social work practice, built on the principles and ideas of front-line practitioners across the country, and we want you to be a part of our journey. 

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