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Identifying and Managing Workplace Stress in a Small Business

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By Mike Davis, Head of SME Direct, AXA PPP healthcare

Many people feel a certain level of stress at some point during their working lives. Whether it’s down to workloads or upcoming deadlines, there are a number of different factors that can cause feelings of stress and pressure. However, sometimes these feelings of stress can start to feel overwhelming and unremitting. When you or a member of your team experiences chronic workplace stress, it can begin to have a negative impact on all areas of life.

How can workplace stress affect small businesses?

Workplace stress can have a big impact on businesses of all sizes. According to the Health and Safety Executive, 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/18 due to work-related stress, anxiety or depression [1]. However, small businesses may feel the effects of workplace stress more acutely than a larger organisation. As a small business owner, when you or a member of your team is absent from work due to stress, it may be difficult to find someone who can cover the workload. 


Stress can also have a big impact on employees’ productivity at work. According to a survey by Perkbox, 25% of people struggle to be as productive at work as they normally would be when they’re experiencing stress, while 22% report feeling disengaged with their work [2].

How can employers identify workplace stress in themselves and their team?


Unlike with some physical illnesses, stress can be difficult to identify for employers, both in their employees and in themselves. However, being able to recognise the early warning signs of workplace stress can be vital in preventing chronic or long term stress from developing. 

Small business owners may be able to spot the following warning signs of stress amongst their team members: 

Extreme tiredness or exhaustion. This may be something that employers can spot in one of their team members – are they more lethargic than they normally would be? They may be struggling to stay awake and concentrate in meetings, or they may be becoming over reliant on caffeine to keep themselves alert during the working day.
Loss of motivation. Is a usually engaged team member losing their drive and commitment to the job? Their work may be starting to become more rushed, with less care and attention to detail than they’d normally demonstrate.
Heightened emotions. Is someone in your team uncharacteristically displaying emotional reactions such as angry outbursts or crying? Equally, if an employee who is usually highly animated and extroverted becoming quieter and more withdrawn than they normally would be?
Missing deadlines and forgetfulness.  People may forget the odd task from their to-do list, but if this forgetfulness becomes uncharacteristically frequent then this could be an indicator of stress in the workplace.

Presenteeism. Is a member of your team regularly staying at the office well into the evening or skipping their lunch break in favour of working at their desk?
Avoidance of you and additional responsibility. You may notice that a member of your team who would normally be open to taking on new projects is actively avoiding taking on any additional responsibilities. You may also notice that they’re avoiding social events with the rest of the team, which they previously would have attended.

How to prevent workplace stress

At times, it can be difficult to manage workplace stress, particularly if your industry is very time critical or deadline-heavy. However, there are steps that you can take to help lower the risk of stress in the workplace.

• Encourage a culture of open dialogue amongst the whole team. This could be by ensuring that managers are having regular catch ups with their team to find out how they’re getting on with their workloads. You could also encourage the team to share their feedback on the business through open forums with the senior management team. If your team does suggest feedback during these sessions, ensure that it’s listened to and acted on where appropriate.

• Develop an induction plan for new members of the team to ensure that they’re fully versed on what is expected of them from their role, and that any skills gaps are identified so a training plan can be developed to support them. This could also be carried out for current team members who may feel that they would benefit from further training.

• Highlight the importance of a good work/life balance to your team. Ensure that your team is making use of their lunch breaks and taking a break from their work. If you notice that someone is regularly staying in the office long after everyone else has gone home, you could have an informal chat with them to find out if they feel they are able to cope with their current workload or requiring additional support.

• Ensure that your team feel that they have enough autonomy over their own responsibilities and workloads. 


• If it’s possible within your business, you could consider offering flexible working hours or the option to work from home to your team. It can sometimes be difficult to juggle the demands of work and personal lives, so having the option to work from home when needed can be greatly appreciated by employees. 

• If you offer any health and wellbeing initiatives to your team, ensure that these are well communicated and that people know how to access them.

As a small business owner, implementing measures to help prevent workplace stress from developing can be highly beneficial to ensuring that workplace wellbeing remains high. Being able to identify the early warning signs can help to address the situation early on and reduce the risk of stress from developing amongst your team. 

AXA PPP healthcare

Our small business healthcare cover provides a range of benefits to help you look after your team. They’ll feel supported and reassured that they can get help when they need it most. We know that every business is different, that’s why we offer a range of cover options so you can choose the ones that best fit your business and your people. 
All of our small business healthcare cover plans come with our 24/7 health information telephone helpline, Health at Hand. With Health at Hand, you and your team will have access to our expert team of counsellors, midwives, pharmacists and nurses who are on hand to answer any concerns that you or your team may have*. Some of the ways that our team of experts can help include:

• If you’ve received some medical test results that you don’t understand, we can help you work out what they mean.

• If you’re struggling with stress or pressure at work, our team of counsellors is on hand to talk to.

• If it’s in the middle of the night and your child’s temperature is running high, our team of nurses will help you work out whether you need to rush to A&E or not.



Click here for more information about our cover, including what we do and don’t cover or get a quote today.

* Health at Hand Nurses and Counsellors are available 24/7, Midwives and Pharmacists are available 8am-8pm Monday-Friday, 8am-4pm Saturday and 8am-12pm Sunday.

Sources and references

1 Health and Safety Executive, 2018.
2 Perkbox, 2018.