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Occupational Health



Stress can be defined as 'the adverse reaction to excessive pressure'. Pressure is often part and parcel of work and helps to keep people motivated. Excess and/or badly-managed exposure to pressure can lead to stress. Workers who experience stress, anxiety or depression are unlikely to perform effectively. This can be costly to management and the employee.

Stress can be a combination of factors in both a person’s personal and working life. If an employee is feeling stressed due to perceived excessive work pressure they should initially try and talk to their manager to address the source and alleviate the stress reaction.

Associated causes at work

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has identified six aspects of work that can lead to stress.

These are:

demands: such as workload and pattern, adequacy of the management team, build programme, and the effects of client expectation and contract penalties;
control: how much say someone has about the way that they work;
support: whether employees receive adequate information and support from managers and colleagues, and whether there are local systems to respond to individual concerns;
relationships: the nature of work relationships, including mechanisms to deal with unacceptable behaviour such as bullying;
role: whether people understand their jobs and have the skills, experience and support to deliver, and whether there is any conflict of responsibilities; and
change: how change is managed and communicated in the organisation, and whether work is secure, including when contracting.

Remember that factors such as personal relationships, financial concerns, domestic issues and bereavement will affect someone's ability to cope with pressure at work. The importance of these factors is likely to vary over time.

What does the law require?

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess risks that are caused by work, and this includes stress. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 places a duty on them to take measures to control that risk. Doing a proper risk assessment for stress and taking action should help you to ensure that staff remain efficient, effective and well.

The University of Cambridge is committed to providing a safe and healthy working environment for its staff and recognises the importance of fostering psychological as well as physical wellbeing.

This commitment arises from the University's duty of care to its entire staff, and more generally the recognition that a safe and healthy working environment contributes to the motivation, job satisfaction, performance and creativity of all staff.

Specifically the University is committed to the promotion of health, to the prevention of work-related stress and to the provision of support to any member of staff who may suffer stress.

To achieve this, the University has produced the following policy and guidance Managing Stress and Promoting Wellbeing at Work Policy:

which includes:

What should I do if I feel I am suffering from work stress?

Speak to your manager who should help identify, discuss and manage your work stressors. Using the individual stress identification tool can help identify specific work stressors during this discussion with your manager. (Individual stress risk assessment worked example.) The management guidance helps guide managers completing the individual stress identification tool with staff.

Where staff are returning to work following absence due to stress, completing the individual stress identification tool as part of the return to work discussion, not only addresses the perceived stress at work but importantly alleviates the risk of recurrence.

The University Sickness Absence Policy and guidance gives clear assistance to managers and employees on the management of employees returning to work following ill health.

Keep active

Physical activity can help you feel calmer, stronger, and better able to deal with emotional stresses. Try something you enjoy such as walking the dog, dancing, playing a sport or gardening.


Support can be from just talking to a friend. Discussing your problems with someone else can help you get ideas about new ways of dealing with your problem or stress. Sharing your thoughts can also help you feel calmer and listened to.

However, if the pressure and stress is ongoing contact your general practitioner (GP) and Occupational Health (OH). Your GP can carry out an assessment and offer advice and any treatment that may be beneficial. Occupational Health can assess and advise you about the specific measures that can be taken to help relieve and manage your symptoms at work. With your consent, OH can also discuss short and longer term measures of support with your manager, to help alleviate your stress.

Other avenues of support available for individuals experiencing distress in relation to their work are the:

  • University Staff Counselling Service
  • Training courses.
    The University offers a range of courses aimed at providing staff with skills to assist with managing stress in the work-place, such as time-management and assertiveness as well as opportunities for all staff to develop work skills, including research, teaching and administration skills, leadership and management development, communication and presentation and career development.

Specific training and development may also help, such as those offered by the University Information Service and Safety Office

Self-help sources:


Moodgym training


Overcoming stress


Further information on work stress: