Most of us feel under pressure at times, but not everybody realises just how serious an impact stress can have on us. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that in 2008/09 415,000 people in the UK experienced work-related stress at a level that was making them ill.

According to employment relations body ACAS, work-related stress costs businesses £4bn every year, and in 2007/08 13.5 million days in work were lost to stress.

While retailers are a hardy bunch, the workload that comes with running a store could leave them open to work-related stress. Staffing, stock ordering, security and business rates are just some of the pressures that retailers have to deal with, potentially leading to stress-related illness.

Regularly feeling anxious, depressed or nervous could be an early sign of stress, says Ian Draper, convener of the UK National Work Stress Network. "Other symptoms include lack of regular sleep, loss of a sense of humour or libido, and simply feeling tearful. It can also manifest itself in other ways such as if a person suffers regularly from migraines or muscle pain," he adds.

Saqib Ghafoor, who runs a Nisa store in Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, believes that store owners can be particularly susceptible to stress. "Stress is something that retailers have to deal with constantly ," says Saqib. "It's a high pressure job that is demanding. But it's how you deal with it that's important. If a problem occurs that is likely to cause you stress, such as a staff member not turning up or a wrong delivery, you have to work quickly to make sure the problem is dealt with rather than letting it fester."

Allowing yourself proper relaxation time is also critical. "It can be very hard to switch off and all retailers dread getting the phone call that their alarm has gone off in the middle of the night," says Saqib. "Unfortunately, concerns over security come with the territory, but it's important to deal with the pressure in the best way possible, which is to try and relax once you leave the store."

Saqib has various ways of unwinding. "I just go home, spend time with my family and relax in front of the TV, or go to the cinema it doesn't matter what you do, as long as your mind is not focusing on work for a few hours."

Kathryn Smith of Smith's Corner Stores in Lincolnshire also says that spending time outside of the store is vital to gaining a better perspective on things. "I would prefer a nice holiday, but that's not always possible, so to relax I like to go on walks. Being outside gives you time to clear your head and get your thoughts in order."

Another way to minimise stress is to delegate tasks when your personal workload becomes too heavy. "Between the management and the staff we share everything out so that it all gets organised with the minimum of hassle," states Kathryn.

Ramesh Shingadia of Londis Southwater in West Sussex says that proper organisation of staff and jobs is essential in the fight against work-related stress. "Organisation is half the battle and if you plan your day out properly, you have a better chance of getting more done," says Ramesh.

"Every morning I will have a quick meeting with my team and go through the tasks I want us to get done that day. Even though it's impossible to plan for everything that might happen, you can put a schedule in place that will help you cope better."

Ramesh adds that it's important not to try and take too much on. "If you try and manage everything yourself, you will end up putting yourself under massive pressure," he says. "Delegating to others allows you to get on with your own work and prevents you from becoming overwhelmed. For example, my staff are trained to deal with sales reps and to handle deliveries, which allows me to focus on the other aspects of running my business."
Dealing with stressed-out staff
When a member of your staff is suffering from stress, there are tell-tale signs. Ian Draper of the UK National Work Stress Network says that retailers should be vigilant for changes in behaviour such as absenteeism and underperformance. "Even if their problems are rooted outside of work it will still have an impact on their job as they will be always thinking about it," he says. "It's important to recognise if a staff member's attitude has changed abruptly as people tend not to speak up." If Saqib sees a team member under pressure, he'll do what he can to help. "If anyone is feeling under stress and it's affecting their work, I do my best to support them," he says. "I offer time off or give them time to cool down after an incident. Often that's all that's required." Draper adds: "A person may require some time off, or a readjustment of work schedules so they can better deal with their workload," he says. "In more serious cases, a visit to a counsellor is a good start, However, the cause of the stress needs to be addressed or it will reappear."
Beating stress
l Express your feelings. Don't bottle up emotions, and seek support if possible. Openly discuss your difficulties and ask for help, either from colleagues or from professionals such as counsellors l Don't take on too much. Don't work excessive hours, and learn to delegate l Make time for social activities such as hobbies and outings with friends and family l Plan regular breaks during the day as well as weekends and holidays and don't regularly take work home. Try to separate the two. Source: counsellor Sue McEvoy