Workplace stress is disproportionately affecting women. It’s time for change


Stressed workers took 12.5 million days off last year. With more than half a million people suffering from depression, stress or anxiety – and women most likely to be suffering in the workplace – we need to make some urgent changes. Here’s how…

According to new research, stressed workers took 12.5 million days off last year – up by 800,000 days on the previous year. The report said that over half a million workers were ‘suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2016/17’.

Women are more likely to suffer from workplace anxiety

And the same research revealed that women aged between 35 and 44 are the group most likely to suffer from depression, stress or anxiety at work, with 2,430 cases per 100,000 workers. So why are women feeling so stressed in the workplace, and what can be done about it?

The reasons cited for stress at work included:

Workload (44%)

Lack of managerial support (14%)

Violence, threats or bullying (13%)

Changes at work (8%)

Let’s break down these areas…


In your allotted work hours, you’ll be expected to complete a certain amount of tasks. It will vary hugely from job-to-job but should be agreed in the initial meeting, before the work begins, and should be returned to throughout the year.

If you’re not sure how much is expected of you each day/shift/project, have a talk with your manger. Get it down in writing, so that you can return to it. And if it’s too much; be frank about this. Creating good work in a realistic time frame is sustainable; unrealistic amounts in a short space of time isn’t.

An effective manager will know that a stressed-out worker won’t produce the best work possible. But sometimes this needs to be highlighted. So if you’re feeling under pressure, call a meeting. Explain how you feel. Outline what’s possible and what’s not. Practice a bit of self-care in the workplace.

Managerial support

This follows on from the last one. Feeling unsupported by your manager sucks. The hierarchy of a company is there to help it to flow more smoothly, with directions being filtered down through the tiers. But if you feel disconnected from the person above you, this needs to be addressed.

However, diplomacy is the key to a harmonious exchange – and relationship in general. Telling your manager they’re not doing a good job won’t be well-received so re-frame it as you feeling you could do with some more direction, or support, and – crucially – this is how. For instance:

“I’m finding it hard that the feedback I receive is always so close to deadline that I then don’t have a chance to make the changes. Would it be possible to hear your thoughts on it a day earlier, so that I have plenty of time to take your advice and improve on it?”

Workplace bullying

This is such a tricky one. So many of us, at one time or another, will suffer the wrath of a colleague or boss and it can really get you down. But it’s totally unacceptable and shouldn’t be swept under the carpet.

Firstly, remember that a ‘bully’; or the person doing the bullying (labels are never helpful) is feeling insecure themselves. If they felt good about themselves and their place at work, they wouldn’t need to put others down. It’s about striving for power, because they don’t feel they have enough.

Confronting someone about their behaviour can feel so daunting, but is really the only way to make them change. You might be surprised by how vulnerable they seem when you explain what’s going on. Call a meeting, write down some examples of the bullying – in case you get nervous and forget – and then explain what’s happening and how it’s making you feel.

Choose your words carefully. “You’re a bully” is likely to elicit a defensive response. While: “When you make derogatory comments about my appearance, it makes me feel really upset” can’t be argued with. Likewise: “I feel your feedback about my work is often negative and I’m never sure what to do with it. I’d love to hear any positive thoughts you have on it?”.

Changes at work

Restructuring, redundancies, a new location, changes to working hours, a new boss, colleagues coming and going… change at work is inevitable; it would become stagnant if everything always stayed the same. But it can sometimes take a bit of adjustment on your part before things begin to flow again.

Try to welcome positive change – a new person entering the workplace, for instance. Enjoy the fresh eyes and energy. And don’t worry about them stealing your thunder – you still have lots to offer, too. Befriend them. Make them feel welcome. And try to work together. This way, everyone will feel happy.

But if the change is out of your hands – an unwanted redundancy, for example, it can be tricker. If it is all legal (watch out for maternity discrimination), try to find something positive in it. Could you use the pay to set up your own business (as Kim did with Clementine), or to try a new career path?

Do you feel affected by workplace stress? If yes, in what ways?

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