An Employer’s guide to stress awareness in the workplace
Stress is a very real and prevalent issue in today’s workplace. It can be challenging to overcome, both in the workplace and life as a whole. It can affect so much of day to day life, from our personal relationships to productivity at work, and it often happens without us even being aware of it in the first place.
Stress in the workplace can cause a number of behavioural, emotional, and even physical problems to employers or employees, but how do you know when it’s affecting you or your team?
It can have negative effects on our physical and mental health, our productivity, and our relationships. But there are ways to manage stress that can help us stay healthy, happy, and productive.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to stress in the workplace. Tight deadlines, long hours, difficult bosses or co-workers, and job insecurity can all add to our stress levels.
What is stress?
Stress is our body’s response to any demand placed on it. When we perceive a threat, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode. This triggers a release of stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare our bodies to respond to the threat by increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration.
In the short term, this stress response can be helpful. It can give us the extra boost of energy and focus we need to deal with a difficult situation. But when we’re constantly under stress, our bodies never have a chance to relax and recover. This can lead to a number of health problems, both physical and mental.
Some of the physical health problems that can be caused by chronic stress include:
– Heart disease
– High blood pressure
– Gastrointestinal problems
– Skin conditions like psoriasis
– Memory problems
Risks to business of having stressed staff
When people are stressed or suffering with anxiety, their ability to concentrate can be affected. This can take their focus away from their work, potentially making employees indecisive, forgetful and overwhelmed which can have a negative effect on their productivity and their ability to work.
Stress can also manifest in different ways, causing changes in behaviours making employees quiet or withdrawn, or irritable and short-tempered. This can directly have an impact on co-workers and other members of a team, putting other employees under-pressure or raising their stress levels.
It is therefore important to provide the appropriate support before stress takes over, as when people are feeling happy and relaxed, they are able to concentrate, make good decisions and work effectively within a team, which in turn increases productivity.
How management can improve stress in the workplace
All employers have a duty of care for their employees. This includes providing a clean, safe workspace where health and safety requirements are met, but to also support and promote wellbeing in the workplace too.
Managers need to be aware of how their team are coping by ensuring regular one-to-ones where they ask the right questions, listen and respond in a respectful, sensitive and supportive way.
It is important that within the workplace, senior management are aware of any misinformation or rumours that could have a negative impact to people’s wellbeing and confidence. It is also important to share any information in an honest and open way during challenging times.
There are a number of ways that employers can help to reduce stress in the workplace. These can include:
- Introducing performance management tools that may help managers pick up on changes in an employee’s mental health status, if it is affecting their work, allowing them to step in and offer timely support.
- Increasing the use of workflows can support easier processes and make covering for absent colleagues more straightforward.
- Encourage connection with colleagues for remote employees, enabling them to feel part of the team and discourage loneliness in their role
- Virtual meeting technology is a great way to make sure everyone, including remote workers, can get together and ‘see’ each other every day
- Embrace employee-friendly policies like flexible working hours or hybrid working
- Provide clear, honest and open communication about developments in the business so that people know that leaders are being transparent with information. Breaking difficult news is not easy, but it is far better that it comes from managers and is accompanied by the facts than stoking the rumour-mill with half-truths and misunderstandings.
Spotting the signs of stress in colleagues
When people feel stressed they may try to hide it and carry on as normal. It’s important to be able to spot the signs of stress in employees or colleagues to provide support before things get too bad.
Signs that a person is struggling with stress or their workload could include:
- They don’t take annual leave
- Working longer hours
- Working over weekends
- Not taking the usual breaks or working through lunch repeatedly
- Reduced work performance
- Seeming withdrawn, frustrated, agitated, irritable
- Acting out of character – impatient, quiet, even tearful
- Appearing tired and unable to concentrate
- Complaining of physical manifestations of stress such as headaches, chest tightness, dizziness, muscle tension, feeling sick, loss of appetite or increased appetite
It is clear that there are risks to businesses when staff are feeling stressed, and it is the responsibility of management to take steps to improve the work environment and mitigate these risks. By providing employees with training on stress awareness, managers can help create a more positive and productive workplace. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you manage stress in your workplace, please view our range of management training courses.