Workplace stress: what is it, and what can you do about it?

In the modern world, everyone seems to be very busy and we all get stressed from time to time. We often hear from clients who are suffering from workplace stress and who want advice about what they and their employers can do to help reduce their level of stress.

What is it?

Stress is a major problem in the workplace. It can cause long term incapacity for thousands of workers every year.

There is however a difference between the stress that we all feel in our daily lives and “workplace stress”. In order to pursue a claim for personal injury related to stress, you must first be diagnosed with a classified psychiatric injury, i.e. depression or anxiety. Another key difference is that “workplace stress” must be caused by work; if the stress that you are suffering is mainly due to personal circumstances outside of work, you are unlikely to be able to obtain compensation from your employer.

What’s the cause?

Lots of things can cause workplace stress, such as too much work, not enough work, micromanagement, or a lack of encouragement. What causes one person to feel stressed may not cause their friends and colleagues to suffer the same levels of discomfort.

However, in order for your employer to be liable, you must prove that they breached their duty of care to you and that the injury was foreseeable as a result.


Your employer is not a mind reader! Nor are they expected to continually ask you if you are ok. They are however expected to notice obvious signs that you may be feeling distress and anxiety and investigate them.

In order for a stress induced psychiatric illness to be foreseeable, the Courts have held that there must be obvious signs that you are at risk of injury. You are unlikely to be successful if you have not previous been signed off by your GP due to workplace stress.

It’s also not normally enough to simply raise concerns about the workload. You should also explain how that is affecting your mental health.

Breach of Duty

Every employer owes their employees a duty of care. They have to make sure that your workplace is safe, and that your system of working is reasonable. This applies just as much to psychiatric injuries as it does to physical ones.

What does that mean in the context of workplace stress? We must be able to show that your employer did not take reasonable steps to address the issues relating to your potential illness once they became aware of them. However, your employer is not obliged to make all or any of the changes you suggest unless their failure to do so would likely cause you injury.

What does all of this mean?

Pursuing cases of workplace stress is very difficult. It’s not enough to show that you are stressed; you must show that you are suffering a recognisable psychiatric injury, caused by your working environment, that your employer knew or ought to have known that you were at risk of suffering injury, and that they didn’t do anything to mitigate that risk.

Just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The first step in any potential claim is to let your employer know that you are struggling, and to take care of your mental health.

What can you do to reduce your workplace stress?

  • Talk to your boss. If your employer doesn’t know that you are struggling, they can’t do anything about it. We all know it can be difficult to admit when we’re having a hard time, but the first step to feeling better might be admitting that you aren’t happy. Try to explain what’s going wrong and have a constructive discussion about what they can do to help you.
  • Ask for a stress risk assessment. The Health and Safety Executive have helpful guidelines about how these work and when they should be used:
  • Use internal grievance procedures. If you are a trade union member, you can speak to your representative about how to go about it. If not, speak to HR or another line manager who you feel comfortable with to see whether this may be right for you.
  • Go and see your GP. They may be able to refer you to local counselling or other resources which can help you to manage your workplace stress. Stress is a very real illness, and first and foremost you should try to look after your health.

Remember that solicitors are here to help you, but that we can only do so after the damage has already been done. Both you and your employer should try to do everything possible to reduce your workplace stress.

If you are suffering workplace stress and would like to have a confidential discussion, please contact us today.

Email Gillian Lolic
Call our personal injury claims team free on 0808 560 0872
Arrange a callback by using our enquiry form

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