Mental health awareness week

It is Mental Health awareness week and I want to share an extract from my new book Leading through uncertainty from the chapter on Stress and Overwhelm.

1 in 4 people will have a mental health issue in the next 12 months, largely driven by unsustainable pressure and stress. The rapid pace of change is here to stay, and leadership has a critical role to play in how people are led and supported in this fast-changing and diverse world.

Mental health is a leadership issue

In a 2017 HSE report, it was highlighted that: “Work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounts for 40% of work-related ill health and 49% of working days lost, in 2016/17. The reasons cited as causes of work-related stress are also consistent over time with workload, lack of managerial support and organisational change as the primary causative factors.” These statistics don’t even include the physical health problems which are caused by stress.

Everyone responds to pressure in different ways. For many, the fear of getting things wrong is real. The consequences are substantial too – missed promotions, blame, criticism and potential redundancy. These are genuine fears that cause people to put themselves under huge pressure, accepting the challenge they’ve been set whether they feel capable or not.

Organisations who have a culture of fear and bullying, have poor leadership and high levels of stress, overwhelm and burnout. Sadly, there are many organisations who do have such a culture, whether they like to admit it or not. There is a tendency to think that workplaces are far better today than the Victorian era of poor factory conditions. Whilst physical environments are vastly improved, the emotional stress and strain people are put under repeatedly is an increasing and long-term societal problem which business must act upon.

Where are the stress points in your business?

Who needs your support?

Managing workloads and stress

Workload, pressure, stress and overwhelm are different for everyone. It’s unreasonable to expect everyone to cope with the same workload, just as some people are more capable of doing one job than another. Putting people under severe stress for prolonged periods leads to burnout. Once someone has experienced burnout in the workplace, it is very difficult to bring them back to the same job and expect them to perform. People are more likely to walk away than face it head-on.

We need more dialogue around what is an acceptable level of pressure and a willingness to ease an unrealistic workload. Understanding individuals’ capabilities related to stress and pressure is crucial to maximising productivity and minimising stress. It is not acceptable to continually put employees under substantial long-term pressure without accepting the responsibility for their mental health in the process.


With the increasing pace and prevalent stress, there is a need to support yourself, as well as your team and organisation. It’s important to recognise that you have limits. Those limits vary for everyone.

What’s your limit and how do you know when you’ve reached it?

Unrealistic targets and expectations are a major cause of stress and overwhelm. The increased uncertainty raises stress levels through the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure. Uncertainty is now a key part of everyday working life, and we need to equip leaders to manage their fear and reduce their stress. If you are conscious of when you are in a high period of stress, it is important to counteract this with time out and quieter periods of work. Raising awareness of the level of stress is essential to prevent it spiralling out of control.

If you would like to reduce stress in your organisation through more conscious leadership,

contact me on 07584 248822 to discuss how I can help

Or join me at the Leading Through Uncertainty book launch

on 24th May 2018 in Warwickshire