What is stress?

'Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure.' (NHS - What is stress)

Stress can affect how you feel, think, or behave and how your body works. Common signs of stress include anxiety, irritability, sleeping problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating.

Stress can manifest itself at an individual level, with a marked change in behaviour, or on a team level with indicators such as increased sickness absence, poor timekeeping, or a decreased level of performance.

A good starting point to learn more about work-related stress is the HSE government guidance: http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/furtheradvice/whatisstress.htm

What is causing your stress?

The first step in dealing with stress is to understand what is causing it. You may be feeling stressed because of a specific situation at work or something in your home or personal life, eg a divorce or bereavement. It may even be a combination of home and work pressures. Understanding the source(s) of stress makes it easier to explore potential solutions and support. Talking to someone can help.

Who can I talk to about this at the University?

The more open and honest you can be about the nature and cause of your stress, the easier it will be for the University to support you.

If you feel you can, tell your manager. Even if the stress that you are feeling is not directly related to work, your manager will be able to discuss the issue(s) with you and guide you towards resources that may help. If you don't feel able to speak to your manager, consider speaking to their manager or to an HR Adviser.

  • Harassment Advisers are trained members of the University who can act as a first point of contact if you feel you are experiencing harassment or bullying.
  • If you are experiencing general emotional distress you can speak to a trained member of the in-house Mental Health First Contact network who will provide immediate support and make you aware of appropriate resources or services.
  • If you are a member of a trade union (UCU, Unison, Unite), you can talk to your representative who might be able to attend meetings with you and support you in developing solutions to the stress.
  • Occupational Health also provide specialist advice which may help resolve difficulties with stress.

What can my manager do to help?

  • Help you identify the source(s) of your stress. This can usually be achieved through a relatively informal discussion, but if it is difficult to know where to begin you can use an Individual Stressor Questionnaire (ISQ). The ISQ lists questions relating to common causes of work-related stress which can help you and your manager understand what may be causing the problem.
  • Remove or minimise the sources of stress. In some cases, a manager may be able to address the source of stress directly and remove the problem. In many cases, it may not be possible for the manager to remove the stress entirely, in which case, steps will be taken to try to address it and to support you in reducing it to a reasonable level.
  • Put temporary adjustments in place. This may help you cope in the short-term while other steps are taken to remove or reduce the cause of your stress. Temporary adjustments might include: relieving you of some work tasks; considering whether leave in special circumstances may be appropriate; reducing your hours; changing where you work for a temporary period; being flexible about your start and finish times; or referring you to other sources of help.
  • Produce a Wellbeing Action Plan. This formally documents the actions that will be taken to make you feel better.

You shouldn't expect the issue to be resolved after a single conversation or expect a complete change in your work responsibilities or environment. Your manager is there to offer you support but must also manage expectations of what is reasonable and realistic. Solutions should take a holistic view of the situation, looking at removing, where possible, the sources of stress and supporting you through the process.

What if my manager is the cause of my stress?

If you think your manager is contributing to your stress and you don't feel able to speak to them about this, tell their manager, or speak to your HR Adviser.

How Health Assured can help

For free, independent, practical and emotional support or counselling, you can contact Health Assured on:

  • 0800 030 5182

As well as providing support and advice on stress, they offer a wide range of helpsheets on topics such as divorce, bereavement, health, finance and legal matters. To access the full range of support visit http://healthassuredeap.com (username: university; password: york)

Role of Occupational Health

Occupational Health can provide:

  • Advice on supportive measures in the workplace eg temporary, longer-term or permanent adjustments to your job to help you through a period of stress-related ill-health or with rehabilitation back to work after a period of absence
  • Advice to your manager about any underlying conditions which may require special consideration or support
  • Advice to you regarding appropriate medical support and signposting to other potential support inside and outside the University
  • Advice and assistance regarding the University's Stress Management Procedure and other procedures if appropriate

If you feel referral to Occupational Health is appropriate you should discuss this with your manager who will complete and submit a Management Referral form in discussion with you.

If it is difficult to discuss this with your manager, speak to their manager or with your HR Adviser. This will enable Occupational Health to provide a written report with advice and recommendations for your manager.

Although you can make a self-referral appointment, and this may be a useful first step in seeking confidential one-to-one advice, it will not result in a written report or recommendations to your manager without further referral by a manager or Human Resources.

All Occupational Health appointments are confidential and information is only provided to managers with your written, informed consent.

GP / doctor support

If your symptoms of stress are getting worse and / or having an adverse impact on your work and general wellbeing you might find it useful to talk to your doctor.

A useful guide on talking to your GP about mental health issues: http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/campaigns/find-the-words/for-gp-patients/