What is Stress?
To begin with, stress is an inevitable part of our lives. There can be a wide range of triggers such as financial worries, a change in circumstances, illness or loss of loved ones, etc. Furthermore, stress can negatively affect a person’s behaviour, relationships and performance at home as well as in their job leading to long-term absence from work.
Work-Related Stress (WRS) is stress caused or made worse by work. It simply refers to when an individual perceives the work environment in a way that his reaction involves feelings of an inability to cope.
Signs of Work Related Stress
When it comes to reducing stress in the workplace, the best managers are those who can identify the signs as well as act on them. The following are the signs that indicate your staff may be suffering from stress or anxiety.
According to research, workers suffering from stress are prone to a rise in sick days. The Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals discovered that acute medical conditions, stress and poor mental health are some of the most common causes of long-term absence within the workplace.
Those struggling with the typical symptoms of stress will find themselves susceptible to health problems ranging from high blood pressure, headaches, noticeable weight gain/ loss or difficulty sleeping.
Symptoms like these can start to take their toll on staff. Furthermore, employees with near perfect attendance may begin to take more and more time off work which thereby, reduces productivity and at times, morale in the workplace.
When stress is present in an organisation, it can lead to restlessness and the need for something new and less stressful. This leads to an obvious problem with increased staff turnover meaning the business is forced to plough more money and time into training and recruiting new staff members.
Nearly all companies have a few people who from time to time, struggle with timekeeping. Nevertheless, when traditionally punctual employees start getting sloppy with their timekeeping – even by a few minutes – it could be an indicator that stress is at play.
Unfortunately, people suffering from stress or anxiety may find it harder to keep track of time or to get up in the morning. This could be due to restlessness, lack of sleep or the inability to relax due to taking workplace stress home at night.
Stressed workers often avoid interacting with others, be it their friends, colleagues or even family. Usually, this is due to being in an isolated world of their own with little energy to have a polite conversation or even small talk.
This lack of communication and relationship building impacts productivity in tasks that require staff to communicate. Furthermore, staff members that are suffering become less likely to make suggestions or take part in proactive discussions.
Likewise, stress can bring a heightened sensitivity which can create trouble of its own. Stressed people tend to lash out at those close by, which may include other members of the team. This is not productive for the workplace.
Quality of Work
It is true that stress can bring out the best in people who thrive from additional responsibility. But, this is not the case for every person. At times, added stress and pressure can lead to team members crumbling. In this way, there is a decrease in the quality of their work.
Some employees may choose to suffer in silence while failing to reach specific deadlines or quality checks. This, thereby, affects the individual in question but can have a massive impact on those around them as they come under extra pressure to make up for the decrease in productivity.
When you are tense, and your mind is distracted, your ability to remember can suffer. This means that you may be more forgetful.
Individuals with stress often have many ‘worry’ thoughts, which may be overwhelming. This means they find it difficult to organise and prioritise their workload efficiently.
People who are suffering from stress find it hard to communicate. This may affect team relationships and increase the worker’s experience of stress.
Stress at the workplace can directly affect decision- making. People suffering from stress and anxiety may lack confidence in their ability to make rational decisions in contrast to their typical behaviour.
When people are anxious or tense, they mostly end up feeling fatigued. This results in workers becoming inefficient in managing their workload and taking longer to complete their tasks.
People can get distracted very easily by their thoughts and what is going on around them. This would make it hard for them to concentrate for long periods and may also increase fatigue.
Workers who are anxious may lack concentration and focus, thereby resulting in them making more mistakes in their work.
Listening and taking notes
Since stress affects concentration as well as other skills, listening and taking notes can be difficult for someone with stress. Besides, they might need information provided in short chunks.
Causes of Work Related Stress
The main causes of stress at the workplace have barely changed over the last few years. Management style, workload, the pressure to meet targets and non-work factors (relationships/ family) are among the top main causes of stress at work.
Many external factors can cause stress too. Personal relationships, as well as the political and economic climate, can play a part in a person’s health and wellbeing.
Although these are outside of an employer’s control, it’s crucial for companies to recognise the link between people’s work and domestic responsibilities. Also, many workers find it difficult to leave their personal issues at home. Furthermore, organisations need to be aware of the complexity of people’s lives and treat them as individuals.
On the other hand, several factors are within an employer’s control. However, the workload continues to be the top cause of stress.
The modern workplace is fast and challenging; it prompts us all to take on more responsibilities and work for longer hours. But this increased level of work doesn’t necessarily result in improved performance or productivity. Instead, it leads to stress, poor work-life balance, mistakes etc.
Employers have a legal duty of protecting employees from work related stress by doing a risk assessment and thereby acting on it. The first step in managing stress at the workplace is for employers to become aware of the initial symptoms of work related stress in their staff. In addition, they must also know how it can affect their performance.
A company’s biggest asset is its people, and the greatest asset they have is their health and wellbeing. So it is their moral and legal duty to look after the employees’ everyday health. If employers are serious about tackling work-related stress, then it’s essential that they invest in a holistic strategy.
The following are the ways to tackle work-related stress:
Stress Risk Assessments
Firstly, employers need to identify the root cause of stress at the workplace and take action to combat it. There are various methods available to do this. Flexible working options to improve work-life balance as well as focus groups to identify causes are amongst the most popular ways to identify and reduce stress in the workplace. Furthermore, stress risk assessments are also extremely valuable.
Mental health and employee wellbeing are intrinsically linked. So, being proactive in promoting employee wellbeing will have a significant impact in tackling work-related stress and mental-health absence.
In addition, many organisations are taking steps to promote mental health as well as physical health. Most companies provide one or more wellbeing benefits to employees such as access to counselling, free eye-tests, employee assistance programmes etc.
An effective health & wellbeing strategy requires involvement from the whole team. Excellent leadership and people management are the foundation of building a safe and healthy workplace. So, the commitment of senior leaders is essential for a holistic health and wellbeing agenda, especially if they want to make a long-term difference.
How senior managers behave, and what they prioritise, will send a compelling message to what’s valued in their organisation. When workers feel valued, they engage more with their organisation.
Line management plays a crucial role in promoting employee wellbeing and managing workplace stress. Besides, they are the ones who influence workers and are the first to be informed in case someone is feeling pressurised.
Managers don’t need to be health experts, but they do need to recognise the value of health and wellbeing at work. In addition, they must spot early warning signs of ill-health and stress at the workplace. Further, they must have the confidence to have challenging and sensitive conversations with employees.
Culture is the most important factor is creating a workplace that’s open, inclusive and based on trust. Employees should feel confident about discussing mental health issues and the challenges they are experiencing without fear of judgement. By increasing the awareness of stress and mental health, organisations will begin to create a workplace that’s safe and healthy.
Ways to Support Team Members Suffering from Stress
- Discuss with your team member if there are any triggers in their job that may increase their stress levels — for example, giving them tasks to do at short notice. Find out what they would have preferred to happen instead.
- Excessive workload is a known cause of stress. Hence, find out from your team member how they are managing their workload and help them to prioritise the tasks so that they feel more in control.
- Have a quiet space where your colleague can go if they are feeling anxious or stressed and they can use their relaxation techniques.
- Remind your staff member of any available help offered at work and how to access it. For example, a counselling service, the company occupational health team etc. to effectively deal with their stress at the workplace.
- Develop a code word/ phrase that your staff member can use when they need to leave the room and take a 5 minute break to reduce their stress.
- Make sure that, as their manager, you have met any reasonable adjustments that may be required. For example, make sure they take regular breaks during the day.
Conclusively, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to designing a health and wellbeing strategy. Every employer must understand patterns and behaviours in the workplace to get to the root problem.
If employers are aware of the challenges faced by their workers and there are supportive measures in place to help them, then they can reduce work-related stress within the organisation.