Financial Services Union
Guide to Reducing Stress in the Workplace

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 What is Work-Related Stress?

We all know the feeling but finding an exact definition can be hard.

Perhaps the Health and Safety Executive in the UK comes the closest in saying, “ Pressure is part and parcel of all work and helps to keep us motivated. But excessive pressure can lead to stress which undermines performance…….and can make people ill.”

Stress often involves a sense of an inability to cope with demands or cope with a poor workplace environment. It can involve varying degrees of anxiety, fear and agitation.

Workplace stress can often leave an employee feeling isolated and vulnerable. But remember if you are feeling stressed at work you’re not alone.

Stress in Banking and Financial Services

In recent years the Financial Services Union has seen an increase in members who felt at risk of severe workplace stress. Rapid change in the banking and financial services sector, unachievable targets, lack of recognition, understaffing, and increased workload are just some of the main causes.

Unfortunately, bullying and inappropriate behaviour in the sector are also a source of stress and anxiety.

If you are experiencing workplace stress your Union is here to support you.

Also employers have a legal responsibility to protect the health of their employees.

Don’t suffer workplace stress on your own.

Causes of Work-Related Stress

The Institute of Work, Health & Organisations, University of Nottingham, has provided a very useful outline of the main causes of workplace stress.

It identifies the workplace environment and the content of work as the two main sources of workplace stress.

Stress in the Workplace Environment

Organisational culturePoor communication, low levels of support for problem solving and personal development, lack of definition of organisational objectives.
Role in organisationRole ambiguity and role conflict; responsibility for people unclear.
Career developmentCareer stagnation and uncertainty, under or over promotion, poor pay, job insecurity, low social value to work.
Decision latitude/ controlLow participation in decision making, lack of control over work.
Personal relationships at workSocial or physical isolation, poor relationships with superiors, interpersonal conflict, lack of social support.
Home-work interfaceConflicting demands of work and home, low support at home, dual career problems.

Stress caused by the content of work

Work environment and equipmentProblems regarding the reliability, availability, suitability and maintenance or repair of both equipment and facilities.
Task designLack of variety or short work cycles, fragmented or meaningless work, underuse of skills, high uncertainty.
Workload/pace of workWork overload or underload, lack of control, over pacing, high level of time pressures.
Work schedulePoorly managed shift working, inflexible work schedules, unpredictable hours, long or unsocial hours

Responsibility for Preventing Work-Related Stress

Many of the triggers of workplace stress are the result of poor management or of unrealistic expectations.

Don’t feel like you have to manage workplace stress on your own or that it is somehow your fault that you can’t cope. This will only make the situation worse.

Yes, there are coping mechanisms that will help you deal with stress on a personal basis but these won’t remove the cause of stress. Remember, it is the responsibility of the employer to assess and manage any workplace hazards, and this includes the causes of stress.

Actions To Remove Stress In the Workplace

The Health & Safety Authority in the Republic of Ireland identifies three main interventions that management should take to deal with stress:

Primary Interventions – This approach involves looking at stress at source in order to prevent it occurring in the first place. It usually involves a review of how things are done, what is done and by whom things are done. Based on your Union’s experience of tackling work related stress this is the most effective intervention an employer can make. Involving staff – through surveys or a review by an independent expert for instance –should form part of the process.

The Health and Safety Authority, in conjunction with other partners, had developed a useful Work Positive Audit Tool to enable workers and employers to a risk assessment for workplace stress.

Secondary Interventions – This approach focuses on the employee and includes training for the job and support in changing work practices

Tertiary Interventions – This approach occurs when work-related stress is already evident and can involve the provision or counselling or employee assistance programmes.

Taking Action on Work-Related Stress

Work-related stress is often matched with a feeling of isolation and helplessness.

The first step in tackling the causes of work-related stress is communication. Don’t suffer on your own.

Communicate with your colleagues . Tell them about the factors that are causing work-related stress. It will come as no surprise that many of your colleagues feel the exact same way. You probably also know many of the solutions that will remove the cause of stress.

Communicate with your health & safety representative. Most employments have health & safety representatives. If you or your colleagues are experiencing sustained stress in the workplace raise the issue with your health & safety rep. They should be able to tell you the employers’ policy on reducing the causes of stress, what initiatives are underway and they can also bring your concerns to the attention of management and follow up with them.

Communicate with your Union representative. Your Union is here to help you tackle work-related stress. We can offer you advice on how to raise an issue with management, or our workplace representatives can raise it on your behalf.

FSU is also involved in carrying out wellbeing surveys in workplaces, often using independent experts. These surveys ensure that the issue of reducing work-related stress is high on the industrial relations agenda. They also ensure that new or emerging sources of stress are identified.

Solutions To Reduce Work-Related Stress

Your Union works hard to ensure that the issue of stress is kept on the agenda. Sometimes we work in tandem with an employer where the issue is being taken seriously. Other times we have to fight to get management to take action.

Just some of the solutions that your Union has been involved in delivering or is actively campaigning for include:

  • Enhanced training for health & safety representatives on how to identify and respond to the causes of stress;

  • Better ways to manage absence related to stress;

  • Better communication of support mechanism available to employees struggling with workload or unrealistic expectations;

  • Greater employee involvement in setting their own work objectives;

  • Securing increased leave, paternity leave and other crucial benefits for staff;

  • Supporting members in claiming all their overtime and being able to take their break entitlements;

  • Early intervention occupational health schemes;

  • Early mediation processes for issues of bullying;

  • Understaffing reporting and response procedures.

Looking After Yourself

Reducing the causes of work-related stress is primarily the responsibility of the employer. Achieving progress on this important agenda is the way to achieve long-term, sustainable improvements in your working life.

However, if you are experiencing work-related stress there are some immediate actions you can take to reduce the impact it is having on your work life.

  • Accept that suffering from stress does not make you a failure or devalue your professional achievements

  • Don’t suffer in silence. Talk to colleagues, family members or friends about how you are feeling

  • Talk to your GP if the symptoms – such as lack of sleep, increased alcohol intake, poor concentration – persist.

In the next section you'll find five short videos by clinical psychologist, Dr. Claire Hayes, that will give you the tools to recognise and manage stressful situations.  Also see the ‘Resources’ section below for more information.

FSU Partnership with AWARE

Mental health is a priority for the Financial Services Union.

AWARE and AWARE NI are our current charity partners. It’s a very positive relationship.

We support AWARE’s fundraising and communication drives. AWARE provides mental health and well-being seminars for FSU staff, volunteers and members.

Below are links to five short videos presented by Dr. Claire Hayes, a leading expert on stress and well-being, which were produced through our partnership with AWARE. They focus on providing you with practical exercises to manage stressful situations.

Tell Us Your Story

If you are suffering from work-related stress then let us know. We can offer you advice and support.

If you work in banking or financial services, even if you aren’t currently a member of the Union, get in touch. We treat your information in absolute confidence.

Email with the word ‘stress’ in the subject line.


Here are some useful resources on work-related stress.



Health & Safety Authority – Republic of Ireland

Health & Safety Executive, Northern Ireland

Health & Safety Executive, Great Britain