Mental stress in the workplace

Mental stress in the workplace is on the rise. Possible causes include, for example, increased responsibility or work intensification, the fast pace of life and current social developments, or even the fear of losing one's job. Management and corporate culture also play an important role in this regard. If the feeling of stress persists over an extended period of time, it can lead to mental illnesses such as burnout syndrome.

Mental stress in the workplace

Stressed business woman working from home on laptop looking worried, tired and overwhelmed.

Mental stress among employees and managers is on the rise. Reasons for this include competitive pressure, increased demands, pressure to perform, increasing digitalization, the need to be permanently available, and job insecurity. Study results show that 70% of the managers surveyed work more than 50 hours per week. One third of those surveyed do not take time for breaks during their working day, and two thirds of those surveyed would like to have more time for their family and partner. But when can we speak of mental stress and how do we deal with employees who are affected by it?

When can we speak of mental stress?

Mental stress is the totality of all detectable external pressures that have a psychological effect on a particular individual. If this stress persists and the individual in question feels that their personal coping strategies and resources are no longer helpful, this is referred to as strain. This condition is a significant risk factor for the development of mental illness. When dealing with employees who are under mental stress, it is important for managers to fulfill their leadership role, in this case their duty of care, and to talk to employees who are demonstrating unusual behaviour. 

Which factors influence mental stress?

There are various ways for employers or managers to deal with cases of mental stress in a team. There are several workplace-related factors that play a role and can be actively changed.

1. Work environment

The working environment includes physical factors such as noise, lighting, ergonomic design of the workplace, work equipment and physical activities carried out.

2. Tasks at work

Relevant factors in this context include one's own room for manoeuvre, the variability and variety of the tasks to be done, necessary qualifications, responsibility and emotional demands.

3. Work organization

Work organization includes working hours, quantitative workload, communication and cooperation requirements, workflow, and information availability.

4. Social relations

A supportive manager, good contact with colleagues or an appreciative approach within the company can have a positive effect on mental stress or even prevent it.

5. New ways of working

New ways of working can have both positive and negative effects on employees’ levels of mental stress. For some people, working from home makes everyday life with the family much easier; for others, the reduced personal contacts may lead to a feeling of loneliness.

6. Personal influencing factors

As an employer, you cannot influence the private lives of your employees, but it is possible to offer support in dealing with personal concerns. Coaching or Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), for example, are ideal for this purpose and allow your employees to seek advice anonymously.

Ways to reduce mental stress in the workplace

Three business people
Management qualifications
Managers should be sensitized to dealing with employees who are suffering from mental stress. Through individual consulting and professional management development, you can place the company’s focus on healthy leadership.
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External employee assistance programmes (EAP)
Coaching or consultation in the field of mental health focuses on the personal resources and coping strategies of employees. Preventive approaches to boosting mental health are also possible.
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Open corporate culture
Mental health must no longer be taboo in the workplace. When employees affected by mental stress turn to the company, it is important to be open and supportive in order to find solutions together.
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Survey of mental vulnerability
Employers are obliged to conduct an annual risk assessment of mental stress in the workplace. Within the framework of this survey, risk factors can be identified and active measures initiated.

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Burnout & Workload

When stress and workload persist over a long period of time, a state of severe emotional exhaustion can result, the so-called burnout syndrome. The signs of overload show up at different levels - depending on the severity of the overload experienced, a wide range of symptom variants occur.

Stress Management

In order to be able to cope well with stress in everyday life, the focus is on acting in a self-responsible and health-conscious manner. In order to strengthen one's own stress management and regulate the stress experience, it is important to find out which personal stressors are triggers and which coping strategies are used.

Addiction & Dependencies

Alcohol, intoxicants, medications, cigarettes or gambling - addictions can occur in various forms. They all have one thing in common: excessive consumption is dangerous to health. It is important to reflect on one's own consumption and to address people with conspicuous addictive substance consumption in one's own environment in a preventive and sensitive manner.

Management of employees under psychological stress

Providing appropriate support for employees who are under psychological strain is one of the greatest challenges in leadership. As a leader, it is important to recognize if employees are overworked. When leaders observe team members changing in the way they work or behave, they should act. 

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