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Stress in the workplace, what can you do to help?

December 1, 2017

The first Wednesday in November every year is stress awareness day across the UK. Stress in the workplace has particularly been in focus recently with various media and government initiatives promoting its awareness.

A recent survey conducted showed that 53% of employees felt too afraid to show signs of stress at work. Stress is one of the biggest causes of health problems in the workplace. In general terms, stress is a reaction to pressure or harassment at work. More than a third of the working population have left a job because of the stress it has caused them. If stress isn’t dealt with in the right way it can be very damaging to a person’s wellbeing and performance.

Stress can be difficult to identity in a workplace as the majority of staff members won’t admit to feeling stressed. Females are 10% more likely to leave their job because of stress than men. However, employees over the age of 65 are less likely to be stressed about their work targets. This could be due to them knowing they are near to retirement.

Stress can cause a range of mental and physical symptoms such as anxiety, depression, backache, headache, altered appetite, difficulty sleeping and more. Around 27% of employees believe showing signs of stress will make them look weak and 18% of employees worry it will have an impact on their career. Employees are struggling to open up about stress at work and those aged between 25 to 34 are more likely to struggle with stress than any other age groups.

People may also try self-medication to alleviate their stress symptoms using alcohol, cigarettes, tranquilisers or other drugs which can lead to even more serious health issues.

Managing stress in the workplace can be as simple as a politics or religion discussion ban in the workplace policy, a weekly meeting to go over situations that are causing people stress, a complaint box so employees can let you know what’s bothering them. The charity Mind encourage cards and posters keeping stress in the workplace firmly in focus.

Common causes of workplace stress

What are the common causes of workplace stress to look out for?

  • Fear of losing work
  • Insufficient workload which can make workers feel their skills and ability are undervalued
  • Work overload – putting too much pressure on employees to get more done than is possible in the working day
  • Short of staff – putting pressure on employees to do the work of more than one employee
  • A poor work/life balance
  • Not getting enough sleep due to long work hours or enough rest breaks at work
  • Poor communication from senior managers to their employees
  • Employees being asked to do more than they were hired for with no extra compensation or appreciation
  • Harassment or bullying
  • A poor working environment
The law states employers are responsible for the safety of their employees while they are at work and this includes stress in the workplace.

Many organisations are looking to include mental health awareness in their company strategy, mental wellbeing is in fact a cornerstone of productivity. The implications of ignoring mental health in the workplace may include a reduction in morale and outputs, increased recruitment costs, potential legal costs and long term sickness absence. It is no surprise to business owners to know that a better work environment leads to happier employees which in turn leads to increased productivity.

Most of us know what it’s like to feel stressed – being under pressure is a normal part of life. But becoming overwhelmed by stress can lead to mental health problems or make existing problems worse. The national stress awareness day has been a great opportunity to get people talking to think about our wellbeing and find advice or support on managing stress.

For us to maintain our wellbeing, noticing what’s making us stressed helps us learn how we can deal with it. This is particularly important in the workplace where stresses of workload and working relationships are common. Stress in the workplace can be very serious resulting from a variety of issues. Negative or bullying colleagues, bosses or employees causing problems, work overload, projects over-running deadlines, long working hours, reduced resources and many more.

What can employers do to help?

Communication with your employees is key to catching stress in the workplace before it starts or nipping it in the bud before it escalates. Sometimes an employee will tell their manager or boss that things are going fine, even when they aren’t. They don’t want to complain but by having senior management who are willing to listen to their complaints, you’ll be able to find out what, if anything is causing stress in the workplace for them.

Employees can hide their real feelings better than they can show them at times. They might be wearing their happy face despite their stress coming to a boiling point for them. Sometimes just letting your true feelings out relieves a lot of stress. Having an open discussion with the employees about what might be bothering them without a boss in the room might do the trick.

For many company owners, their company is their baby. Criticising their business can be like telling someone their baby is ugly. Opinions should be taken on board and examined with an open mind.

Encourage teamwork

Most large companies will their have their share of negative employees, so take feedback with this in mind. It’s up to the owners and managers to get these types of personalities working together with more positive people to give them a better mind-set.

Give your employees a break and motivate them

We live in a fast-paced world where our customers want things NOW and people need to get things done fast. The workload is piling up and so is the stress of everyday life, it is easy to see how daily activities at work and home can pile on the stress.

Think of things that could let your employees take a mental break from work, even during work hours. Team building exercises, hiring a motivational speaker, keynote speaker or corporate entertainer to motivate and entertain them, having a no negativity policy or many other things are a good start. Show your employees you appreciate them and want to hear how things are going and your business will see the benefits.

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