Mental health and workplace stress are two of the biggest issues that UK employers face today. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s latest Labour Force Survey estimates that a whopping 55% of days lost to illness, caused or made worse by work, in 2019-2020 were due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Even before the full effect of the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, these figures were at a record high.
While poor mental health and stress burnout usually have a combination of causes, any kind of stress has a huge impact on staff productivity and retention, in turn affecting profitability and stability in a business of any size.
According to the Perkbox UK stress survey for 2020, a staggering 79% of employed British adults experience workplace stress – a rise of 20% in just two years.– and by far the biggest cause of stress.
The most common causes of work-related stress, according to the findings of the survey, were:
- work-related office politics (37%),
- lack of interdepartmental communications (34%), and
- the work performance of others (33%).
The other most common forms of stress come from monetary or financial stress (60%) and family stress (48%).
Why the fuss about stress?
While many people take steps to handle stress in their lives, through exercising, healthy habits, sleeping enough and unwinding, left unmanaged, stress can cause real problems. The affected person may, consequentially, be suffering from health problems, sleep deprivation, mood imbalances and an inability to focus, which will only be causing them even more stress. The result for the employer is tangible and even the atmosphere at work may change.
While there are many reasons for high staff turnover, poor management of issues such as mental health can be a major contributing cause. Spotting changes in staff behaviour is an important skill in managing workplace stress. Good managers also take responsibility to ensure their management style isn’t making things worse (or the cause of stress in the first place). On the other hand, an open, balanced and communicative manager will play a key role in a lower turnover and productive, confident staff – all key to a thriving business.
Changes in behaviour are the most important indicators of stress. Managers can watch carefully and note these common symptoms:
- increased lateness or absenteeism
- changes in personality – a persistent short temper, frustration, emotional outbursts
- disengagement or distraction in a usually energetic staff member, or
- decreased productivity or quality of work.
If you notice these kinds of changes, try to avoid jumping to conclusions, and find a quiet time to talk to your employee, there may be a cause you’re unaware of. Try and listen in a sensitive and open-minded way to how the affected employee sees the problem and what they think may help. It’s likely that whatever the source of stress is, (if it’s at work) it’s within your control to improve or fix.
For example, someone on the team isn’t pulling their weight, technical problems, lack of or inadequate tools or equipment, unclear direction etc.
Where action needs to be taken here are some easy-to-implement ways of promoting a low-stress workplace.
10 ways to reduce employee stress
1. Provide feedback: Appraisals can be done more frequently than once a year, but you can also take time to give a little feedback on a daily basis – feeling valued lowers stress. Having regular, structured one-to-ones can be part of this approach.
2. Holidays: Encourage employees to take their annual leave, and try to accommodate any requests to take any carried over leave that staff weren’t able to take during the pandemic. Discourage the answering of emails or any engagement with work during this time. Relax, switch off and unwind, a holiday can recharge the batteries and give perspective.
3. Promote balance: Both flexible working, including hybrid working arrangements and working more from home where possible, and an emphasis on work carried out rather than hours spent, can help employees better manage their work-life balance.
4. Commuter stress: If it’s the commute that’s the root of the stress consider offering remote working for some of the time, or different start or end times to allow travel at off-peak periods. HR software and other digital tools make remote working super easy to manage.
5. Monitor workloads carefully: consider hiring temps for busy periods, include employees in discussions about their targets so you can gauge what they feel is realistic. Realistic goals and targets are less likely to be a source of stress or frustration and remember even top employees have limits.
6. Variety: If an employee is bored consider diversifying their role, can they learn in other departments for part of the week, or can you offer training to re-engage them? Something as simple as rearranging the workspace might help. Have a chat and see what would alleviate their boredom and stress.
7. Simplify: Does every project need to be approved by so many team members? If onerous procedures or lack of autonomy are stress factors try and revise and rethink your procedures. Where possible, simplify them and allow staff to have autonomy – being trusted is highly motivating.
8. Environment: Lowering noise levels, lighting or temperature can help reduce physical stress caused by an uncomfortable or unproductive workplace. Consulting staff on the results of your Covid-19 Health and Safety risk assessment looking at social distancing and hygiene measures you can take in your workplace, will allow employees to raise any specific concerns they may have.
9. Volunteering: An employee volunteering plan during paid working hours can help bring the team together and provide a shared and meaningful experience. This can help alleviate stress, and depression and boost the brand’s rep at the same time.
10. Pay and incentives: Competitive pay and good incentives may not directly reduce stress in the short term, but bad pay rates can lead to real stress and frustration if the job feels like it takes more than it gives.
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