How to tackle stress at work
“The company workforce is an organisation's most valuable resource. It is highly difficult, or often even impossible, to replace this human asset which is why 'workforce wellness' is an organisational imperative.”
Carole Spiers FISMA, MIHPE, Founder National Stress Awareness Day, Chair the International Stress Management Association [UK]
With the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) choosing ‘workplace wellness’ as the theme for this year’s National Stress Awareness Day, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at how stress can affect employees in the workplace, and what can be done to help to combat stress and other mental health issues at work.
How can stress affect performance at work?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) have called stress the ‘health epidemic of the 21st Century’ due to its huge impact both on people and on economies.
Stress alone is estimated to cost the UK economy circa £6.5 billion a year. While research from the OECD estimates the cost of broader mental health issues to the economy is nearer to £70 billion, or roughly 4.5% of GDP, per year.
As a result of the crippling effect of stress and other mental health issues on both employees and business, a group of leading employers, including BUPA, Procter & Gamble, RBS, BT and Mars formed the Workwell Mental Health Champions Group. The group seeks to increase awareness of mental health issues in the workplace, to ensure that tackling the problems of stress etc. carries the same weight at board level as encouraging and planning for the physical health of staff.
The group has published a business case looking at stress and mental health at work, called: We’re Ready to Talk. The report focuses on re-thinking the approach to mental health in the workplace, and found that the lack of transparency around mental health is stifling the efficiency and competitiveness of UK business.
The report goes on to state that employers often don’t have pro-active plans to ensure the mental well-being of their employees.
A fact which is backed up by ONS statistics for 2015, showing that the number of cases, that year, of work related stress, depression or anxiety was 440,000. And the number of working days lost to these conditions was 9.9 million days – an average of 23 days lost per case.
What’s more, the ONS also found that in 2015, stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health.
All research into the rise of stress related illnesses in work seems to point to one thing: people affected by these issues lack the confidence to speak out about their problems, which, coupled with the lack of stress management plans in place in business, only helps to proliferate the problem.
What to look out for
Stress affects people in myriad different ways, so it is difficult to spot from one case to the next. However, there are a variety of things to look out for, both in yourself and your employees.
When suffering from stress, it is generally people’s emotions that give the first hint that they may be suffering.
For example, people who don’t normally show much emotion may become prone to tears, or otherwise placid members of staff may become uncharacteristically angry, lose their temper or become generally irritable.
Although everyone has a bad day every now and then, persistent and adverse changes to an employee’s emotions and reactions could indicate a heightened stress level and should be explored in more detail to ensure that, if there is an underlying problem, everything that can be done is done.
Another key indicator of an employee being stressed is a change in behaviour. Things like extreme dieting resulting in dramatic weight loss, turning to drink or drugs, even self-harming in severe cases.
Behaviours like these can often be a symptom of someone with stress, or other mental health issues trying to regain control over some element of their life.
Employees that are suffering from stress may well find they lack decisiveness or have increasingly erratic thought processes.
People who are generally lively and motivated may become apathetic and lackadaisical towards their work. This can be particularly common on occasions where the individual suffering from stress is doing so as a result of feeling that it is ‘all too much’, and as a result, becoming overwhelmed with what they have to do, both in work and in their lives in general.
Other signs of stress
When an employee is feeling the pressure of stress at work, there are many other signs that could help to identify and deal with the problem, they include, but are not limited to:
Line managers are usually best placed to recognize symptoms such as these and should be trained in stress management.
How to help to reduce the possibility of stress at work
Managers, Directors and other senior figures can help to reduce the impact of stress upon their employees in a variety of ways, all of which will not only help to keep the mental health of their employees balanced, but will also, if they are successful, help to reduce the impact of loss of revenue due to the stress levels of their staff.
Lead by example
First, and perhaps most importantly, it is important for Managers and Directors to lead by example. As leaders it is singularly important that senior figures within businesses keep a lid on their emotions and endeavour not to let their own anger or stress rub off on their employees.
By striving to present yourself as a calm and motivated individual you will provide something for your staff to look up to and emulate. Ensure you give yourself plenty of time to de-stress during evenings and weekends.
By remaining active and enjoying quality time with your family will help you, and your staff, to keep a healthy work-life balance and be less susceptible to the dangers of stress. In addition, by taking regular breaks and enjoying time off work for holidays, you show your employees that it is ok to take time out of work to relax.
Introduce staff health and wellbeing schemes
This is far from the first, or last place you will hear this, but getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is greatly important when it comes to combating work related stress.
By introducing employee wellness schemes, such as subsidised gym memberships, organising running groups, organising group-wide healthy eating challenges, or having team building exercises that involve physical activity, you help employees to unwind and feel better about themselves, and thus reduce the chance of stress becoming an issue.
All employees are entitled to take breaks throughout the day. In fact, the law entitles them to at least a 20-minute break for every six hours worked, and 11 hours between working days. So make sure that they take the breaks they are entitled to.
Not only is this a legal requirement, studies show that most people are more productive if they work in 90 minute increments, with 20 minute breaks in between; it is highly likely that you will get more work, of a higher quality, from employees who are allowed to take regular rest periods.
Listen to your staff
It is often the case that employees want an opportunity to express their thoughts and share their concerns and complaints.
However, many are worried about talking to their managers because they don’t want to be seen as a ‘moaner’ or create the feeling that they can’t handle their jobs.
To be an effective leader and help reduce the stress levels of your team, you need to actively promote an open door policy. Listen to your employees’ concerns and help them find solutions to the work problems that are contributing to their stress.
It’s important that you try to ensure conversations focus on solutions rather than problems, but ensure that your staff know they can be honest with you – it will help to reduce their stress levels, and in turn, a happy, productive team will hopefully reduce your stress levels, too.
In addition to these suggestions, you may want to encourage team bonding, allow flexible schedules and create a pleasant working environment. Or take a look at these Top Ten Stress Busting Tips from ISMA.
How to create a stress free office environment
We’ve written many articles recently about how to create the perfect office space.
So rather than re-create the wheel, we’ll keep this brief:
- Invest in ergonomic office furniture
- Choose ambient colours and lighting
- Have plants in the office
- Don’t overcrowd your office
- Get the noise level (or radio station) right
- Get the temperature right
- Surprisingly; provide staff with multiple monitors
All of the above examples have been proven to reduce the stress of your workforce and also to increase their productivity, so it pays to get them right and help your staff not to suffer from work related stress.
Have a stress policy
As mentioned earlier, one of the key findings of the various groups mentioned was a lack of workplace stress management policies.
Take a look at this example from the HSE. Research them some more. Draw one up – get your staff involved in a consultation process. Then, when you have one that all parties are happy with, get it signed off by the MD and a staff representative. This way, staff and managers know that there is a policy in place for dealing with and reducing stress, and they know it will be taken seriously if it becomes an issue.
This knowledge alone can help to reduce stress levels.
How Business First can help
Business First strives to provide state-of-the-art office space and work with businesses to create the perfect office environments they need; tailor made to their personal requirements, and to create great communities between tenants in all of our buildings.
If there is something stressing you out with your current office space provider, why not come to your nearest Business First centre, have a chat with our Centre Manager and see how we can help to set you up in an ergonomic office space and help to reduce your stress levels with fantastic offices and unparalleled service.
For more information on how to tackle stress in the workplace, contact ISMA or check out Carole Spiers’ book, Show Stress Who’s Boss!