While it’s possible to alleviate workplace stress, it may never be possible to eliminate it. These are just some tips to help employers handle workplace stress.
The topic of workplace stress is an extensive one. There are various things that can cause workplace stress. Quite often our personal lives can add fuel to the fire. While an employees personal life should in theory remain out of the workplace, it’s often impossible to avoid crossover.
Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for 2019 highlight the worrying impact of workplace stress for both employers and employees. 828,000 cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety were reported between 2019 and 2020 alone. That roughly translates to an average of 2,440 cases per 100,000 employees. This is significantly higher than the reports from previous years.
Please note: The last year has been anything but normal with COVID-19. But it’s not considered to be the main contributor to the increase in workplace stress, depression and anxiety.
What is workplace stress?
According to the HSE, workplace stress is defined as an adverse reaction to excessive pressures or demands in the workplace. The effects of workplace stress are so severe that WHO have since labelled it as “the health epidemic of the 21st century”. Whether it still holds this title since the pandemic, I’m unsure. But for a long time, it was considered the leading health concern.
How does it develop?
Work-related stress can develop for many reasons. The most common of which is when employees are presented with demands and pressures not matched to their ability. With employees expected to work to increasingly higher targets, shorter time constraints and with little support, it’s easy to see how someone can become overwhelmed. Having little control over their work place has also proven to increase stress levels, and often leave employees feeling demoralized.
While workplace pressures may be unavoidable, they can be managed in such a way as to motivate and even encourage employees to feel more accepting of new challenges. Sadly, however, often increasing demand is mismanaged, becoming more excessive and beyond the capabilities of employees. This is made worse when adequate resources, training and staff aren’t available. Existing employees are left to improvise and adapt in order to overcome.
If you unsure if you have a problem in your workplace, occupational health assessments may be the answer.
What are the impacts of stress on both the individual and the workplace?
The main cause for concern from a business standpoint is the increase in lost working days due to absence. Not only does this leave a gap in the workforce, but it also may require temporary employees. This adds to additional expense in regards to statutory sick pay and an additional employees wage. Not to mention the time spent training, carrying out inductions and even time lost due to inexperience.
While it’s important to consider the impact of stress from a business point of view, it’s equally as important to be aware of the mental, emotional and physical impact that stress might have on employees.
- Lowered performance due to feelings of being overwhelmed, fatigued or restless.
- An unhappy and demoralised workforce which can easily spread.
- The creation of life-altering mental health issues or the exacerbation of pre-existing conditions.
- Physical conditions brought on by chronic and acute stress such as insomnia, brain fog, heart conditions, bowel conditions and more.
- Poor communication among the workforce. Depending on the environment this can also have an impact on customer service.
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How can employers work to combat stress?
Communication is key.
No matter where you work, communication is one of the most important things to remember. Poor or inadequate forms of communication can lead to a number of issues. Employees might not be aware of their job roles due to a lack of clear communication. They also mightn’t be kept up to date on company policies, or they may be reluctant to communicate for other reasons. By learning the best methods of communication and regularly checking in, it can help others feel at ease. Not only that, but it makes people feel listened to when a manager actively listens to their wants and needs.
There are a number of ways you can keep on top of the communication within the workplace. For example there should also be opportunities for employees to speak to you on a one-to-one basis about any issues they might be having. While it’s great to hold regular meetings with employees, it might not be the ideal setting for employees to raise more sensitive concerns.
Finally, when changes are being presented to the business that may impact employees, it’s important that these are communicated in a timely and appropriate manner. This could include things like a sudden restructure of the business, changes in policies and procedures, or changes to the work schedule.
Engage and recognise employees in the workplace.
Acknowledging and rewarding your employees tends to work better than ignoring them. In fact, recent studies have found that only 15% of employees around the world are actually engaged in their jobs. That means that over 85% of people feel unmotivated and under appreciated within their workplace.
Ensure that employees are rewarded for their hard work and performance. It can be as simple as a ‘thank you, I really appreciate you.’ In a larger organisation, this could be implementing an employee of the month scheme or organising work events wherein employees get time to relax.
Encourage a positive team environment.
This can be done in a variety of different ways. You can introduce wellness schemes, encourage team building activities outside the workplace, offer counselling and support, and provide relative and frequent feedback that aims to not only help employees see how well they’re doing, but also allows them to raise any concerns. It’s also important to remember the little things like ensuring all employees take the breaks and vacation days that they are entitled to. Actively remind employees of vacation days, and even check up during the working day to ensure they’ve taken their designated breaks that day.
When it comes to workplace harassment and bullying, there should be a zero tolerance approach at all levels. Whether it comes from the shop floor or management, no one should be left to work in a place where they feel belittled, gaslit and even under physical threat.
Provide adequate training & opportunities to re-train if needed.
One of the biggest reasons for stress in the workplace is training, or a lack thereof. It’s paramount that employees are given adequate training and time to fully understand what they’re being shown. While it’s great to try and get all training done on the first day, bear in mind that the first few days on anything new can be overwhelming to most people. Therefore it’s more difficult for information to be retained properly within the brain. It’s best to break training up into small parts and separate it from the day of the employee’s initial induction. While some people may require less training than others, it’s important not to shame those who might need a little more help. Everyone learns at varying speeds and even those who start off slow could be your diamond in the rough.
Finally, it’s important to offer frequent re-training or opportunities to brush up on skills. For example, offer toolbox talks, training sessions and one-to-ones with those you feel might need it. Not everyone will readily admit that they need extra help, so managers should remain vigilant with staff and privately speak to any they feel might benefit from additional training. Health and safety and HR can also help management in regard to retraining, so be sure to reach out to the respective department.