Countless studies have shown that work-related stress is one of the most common sources of stress for individuals and employees, we have seen these results increase year on year. In 2018/19, HSE reported 602,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. 2020 will be no exception and will likely see a larger than usual rise in stress levels due to the strain COVID-19 has put on the workplace. Within this blog we will discuss how you as an employer you can help your employees and teams deal with stress and improve your workplace morale which will improve employee productivity.
HSE found that workload, lack of support, factors intrinsic to the job and violence, threats or bullying were the main contributors to work-related stress. These factors can be controlled and reviewed by the organisation and management teams to reduce stress felt by employees.
When dealing with workplace stress as management, it is always better that you take a proactive rather than reactive stance. You need to identify and remove stress factors before they can begin to impact employee wellbeing. A good place to start is to look for signs of stress amongst your team, identify aspects of the organisation or job that are high stress, and analyse your own stress levels.
Some key signs to look out for are: frequent absences, working longer hours, not taking breaks or annual leave, productivity changes, irritability, withdrawn or tearfulness, change in diet, tiredness, lack of confidence, memory problems or difficulty concentrating. These are just some of the possible symptoms but if you notice any changes in your staff which could be due to stress, you should have a casual conversation with them about this.
The good news is, workplace stress can be quite easily reduced when management work to target sources of the stress. There are many ways you can do this; we suggest the following 4 as good starting points.
An open channel of communication between you and your employees is key. They need to feel comfortable being able to talk to you about their stress. Many employees have reported their stress levels increased because they were trying to hide feeling stress from management. You need to create relationships in which your employees do not fear repercussion or judgement. They must be reassured that actions will be taken to support them. This can be as simple as meaningfully asking how they are, if they need any help, and checking they have the time and resources to manage their workload. Having already had these conversations before, your employees will be much more comfortable to let you know when they are stressed.
Encourage time off and breaks.
One of the biggest contributors to workplace stress is over-working. To avoid this, encourage your staff to take regular breaks. A simple 10-minute walk away from the desk can be enough to help employees reduce stress levels. These breaks give people the time to recharge and refocus. But also a moment to breathe, to consider something outside of their work. You should also encourage employees to take their lunch away from their desk. People should regularly step away from their desk, disconnect from work and make some time for themselves. This extends to annual leave; encourage your team to take their allocated holiday time. Some employees do not take annual leave because they are worried about how their work will build up during their time off, if you think this may be the case, talk to your team about how to manage this, help to delegate their tasks whilst they are away.
Implement an EAP.
An Employee Assistance Programme is an excellent tool to help manage workplace stress. There will be times where further specialist support is required or an employee is not comfortable talking to their manager. Having an EAP in place allows you to provide your team with this additional, confidential, specialist support. Simply knowing this service is in place can help reduce some stress, as employees are assured that they have a support network in place. Outside of emotional support, An EAP can help individuals with learning to better manage their time, how to create home/work boundaries and how to reduce stress levels on their own where possible. In addition to this, an EAP can also give advice to management who want advice on helping employees with stress. CiC have a dedicated Managerial helpline that supports managers in creating a positive work environment.
Make organisational changes.
Every employer has a duty of care towards their staff and this includes their mental health. If you are regularly noticing high stress levels amongst your staff, it’s time to look at the organisation itself and make some changes. Ideally, you would make these changes before they are urgently ‘needed’. There are a number of things you can do as a company to reduce stress levels: clearly define roles, have the right number of staff, allow flexible working, hire a mental health champion/first aider, review organisational structures, policies and protocols, and ensure adequate training, especially for line managers. Ultimately, the best way to avoid workplace stress is to ensure the organisation is setup in a way that protects the mental health of your employees and has the right measures in place to support wellbeing.
The benefits of a healthy work-life balance to your company and employees are phenomenal. The first way to produce this is by reducing stress factors at work. You will soon have happier, more productive staff and your company will have an excellent reputation for looking after their employees, helping you to retain and attract top talent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us very clearly that the key to our businesses are our people. We have seen what is achievable even in the most difficult times when employees feel valued and well supported. It has also brought our attention to elements of the workplace that could be changed. Your employees are the heart of your organisation and adopting a healthy work life balance will allow them, and your company, to flourish.