stress and pressure in the workplace

Work is a common source of stress for everyone. But why? What causes it? And what can you do to cope with work-related stress before it affects the rest of your life?

Stress isn’t an illness. But if stress-related symptoms aren’t managed, and the pressure we feel exceeds our coping techniques, our mental health can suffer. 

work-related stress triggers

There are many reasons you might feel under pressure, overwhelmed, or stressed at work. A few common triggers are:  

  • lack of control 
  • time pressures/excessive or inflexible working hours 
  • too much or too little work/responsibility 
  • confusion about duties or responsibilities 
  • lack of job satisfaction 
  • too few development opportunities 
  • inadequate training 
  • poor work/life balance 
  • difficult relationships at work, including bullying or harassment 
  • lack of support and/or contact with colleagues 
  • organisational issues and change, like restructuring, or job changes 

We often spend more time at work than with our loved ones. It’s therefore crucial for our mental health that we prevent, or minimise, the impact of these issues.

“I would get very stressed at work because answering phone calls and emails was unbearable for me. “


caba client

Here are some practical tips on how to cope with these challenges, from caba’s mental wellbeing specialist, Kirsty Lilley.

build relationships with colleagues 

No one understands workplace stress better than your colleagues. They can be a big source of support when it comes to the management of everyday tasks, and during periods of uncertainty.  

However, relationships with colleagues can become strained because of things like working conditions, workload inequality, bullying/harassment, or personality clashes. 

If you’re having difficulties, try to: 

  • Communicate effectively. Talk to them face-to-face, if you can. 
  • Build a ‘good enough’ working relationship with your manager/supervisor. That way, if you have personal issues that affect your work, they can look at what measures and support can be put in place. 
  • Reflect on your behaviour. You don’t have to like all your colleagues, but it’s important to create a mutually respectful environment. 
  • Build time for engagement with your peers and teams, especially if you work remotely. Encouraging everyone to support each other, rather than compete, will lead to a healthier and happier working environment. 
  • Talk on the phone. Especially if it’s a quick question. Calls can lead to faster problem solving than an email for more in-depth discussions. 

learn to say no 

There are many demands on us in the modern workplace. Add that to an increased sense of competitiveness, where people’s value is attributed to how busy they are, and it’s not great for anyone’s mental health.  

Technology also blurs the lines between rest and work, as we become available 24/7. 

Developing boundaries to manage other people’s expectations of you is important. 

Learning to be more assertive and say ‘no’ will help prevent resentment from creeping in as a result of work overload.  

To say ‘no’ with context, focus on being honest and explaining what can - and can’t - be done. 

manage your time 

Good time management helps you stay in control, increases your productivity, and means you can manage your workload better. But how can you do that? 

  • Get organised. Prioritise your workload with a to-do list. If you’re struggling with this, ask your manager to help. 
  • Deal with problems as they arise. Putting them off can create more stress and affect your concentration. 
  • Schedule your annual leave/holiday entitlement. This ensures you always have a break to look forward to. 
  • Take breaks. Fresh air and/or a change of scenery can work wonders. 
  • Stick to office hours. Strict boundaries between work and home are key to maintaining a healthy work/life balance. 
  • Make time for creativity. And step away from your screen! Avoid the treadmill of busyness for a while. This can inspire innovation and recharge your batteries. 

There are lots of tools out there to help you manage your tasks and time more effectively. Try our free online course: Do more in a day than you do in a week to learn more about time management. 

“I was working day and night yet still not achieving what I felt I should be. I kept thinking ‘What am I doing wrong?' Looking back, I'd say that my inner voice was quite critical - I was focusing on what wasn't working out and being quite hard on myself about it.”

comment from course attendee


consider your goals 

Figuring out your priorities helps you keep track of where you want to be without putting too much pressure on yourself.  

Do you want a promotion? Are you working towards a different role? Do you want to learn a new skill? 

Keeping the bigger picture in mind ensures you don’t get demotivated or lose sight of your goals. 

accept you can’t control everything 

Focus your energy on what you can change.   

It’s really easy to worry about the future, or things that may never happen. Live in the present as much as you can. Focus your energy on what you can do today. 

At the end of the day, reflect on what you’ve achieved. Highlighting these things makes you consider what you can control and influence around you. 

be adaptable to change 

Whether it’s restructures, budget cuts, or other adjustments, change can be difficult.  

Change is particularly stressful when you feel your opinions weren’t heard. So if your employer invites you to participate in planning or evaluations, speak up.  

Getting involved when you can give you a greater sense of control. At the very least, this will provide a better understanding of why decisions were made. 

take care of yourself 

  • Have a regular sleep cycle. Go to bed, and wake up, at consistent times. This helps your body develop a routine. Our partnership with Sleepstation can give you access to a free sleep improvement programme if you’re struggling to drift off. 
  • Stay hydrated. This helps you maintain focus and concentration. Dehydration causes irritability and makes decision-making harder. 
  • Exercise. If you’re in a job which is largely sedentary, regular exercise prevents stress overload. It also releases endorphins, which make us happier. 
  • Relaxation. This maintains, and develops, your mental health. Reading, listening to music, yoga, a walk in nature…whatever works for you. If you find sleep difficult, you could try meditation. 
  • Practice self-compassion. This will give you the energy you need to work, and live, well. 

access support 

  • We’re all responsible for our own health and wellbeing, but employers also have a duty of care when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their workers.  
  • Occupational health. Familiarise yourself with the referral procedure, especially if you’ve had/have physical or mental health problems that affect your work. Usually, a line manage can refer you.  
  • Welfare/counselling department, or EAP. This can support you and help you deal with stress. Taking time to look at your coping strategies with a professional can be extremely beneficial. 
  • HR or personnel, for advice around problems at work. 
  • Unions. Sometimes they can help if you think you haven’t been treated fairly at work. 
  • GP. If you’re worried about the impact of stress on your health, please contact your GP. 

This article was written for caba by mental wellbeing specialist, Kirsty Lilley 

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Who is eligible for support?

We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW)1, ACA students2, ICAEW staff members3, and the family and carers of members and students4

  1. No matter where your career takes you, past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England Wales (ICAEW) are eligible for caba’s services for life, even if you change your career and leave accountancy 
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