• Stress at work is one of the biggest causes of illness in the UK

  • Fergus O'Connell offers four pieces of advice to make your work-life balance less stressful

  • If you are suffering from stress, you can find a therapist here

In the UK, work-related stress is deemed the biggest cause of sickness in the country, with over 105 million days lost to stress each year.

Thankfully, there are some things you can do to alleviate this stress or even to not get caught up in it in the first place. Projects, presentations, meetings and sales are all common reasons people are feeling stressed at work. But the one which I’d like to address here is bosses. A strained relationship with an employer can be one of the biggest causes of stress at work, so here are four things to bear in mind if you are trying to cultivate a better relationship with your boss this year:

1) Bosses are human too

As a result of this, they make mistakes. This means that when your boss makes a decision that you think is faulty, in some situations it can be important and helpful to explain how you are feeling. This will take some self-belief, for sure, but the only way they can know how you are feeling is to talk to them. However, it’s important to approach this conversation in the right way. Use facts to support your argument. For example, if you know that ten widgets can be processed in a day, then a hundred widgets will take two weeks, provided you have nothing else to do. If your boss then insists that you multitask and still get your hundred widgets done in two weeks, you need to point out – using these facts – that what your boss is proposing is likely not realistic.

2) Bosses like to have their problems solved

In other words, don’t bring them problems – bring them solutions. So coming back to our hundred widgets problem again, you would offer alternatives. For instance:

  • ‘I can do the hundred in two weeks provided I have nothing else to do’
  • Or – even better – ‘I can do the hundred in two weeks provided I have nothing else to do. So could Charlie take my other stuff? I checked with him and he is happy to take it on’.
  • Or – ‘I can do the hundred widgets and get this other stuff done but then that’s going to take four weeks

3) Bosses can be unrealistic in their expectations

This can be especially true when you’re your own boss and you feel that you’re Superman and you can do anything. Once again, the only way to overcome this obstacle is to know the facts and be able to explain them to your boss. You might assume that your boss will respond badly if you try to tackle him or her head-on, but in fact a recent study at Ohio State University found the opposite. According to The Times “employees who fought back experienced less psychological distress, greater job satisfaction and as well as more commitment to their employer”.  And it did not decrease their chances of promotion or a pay rise.

4) Many bosses wrongly think that long hours equal productivity

And yes again, the solution is the facts. Always the facts. Agree – at the beginning of the year or whenever – what your targets are. Now – and this is utterly vital – agree how those targets will be measured. Without measures you (both) have no way of knowing whether you’ve succeeded or not. Once you’ve done that, work the hours required to meet the targets and meet (or better still, exceed) the measures. If anyone complains about your hours – including your boss – point them at your achievements.

Further reading

How to be assertive and set healthy boundaries

11 tips for highly sensitive people at work

Finding work-life balance

Is your job making you ill?