Mental health is one of the biggest issues that UK employers face today. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s latest Labour Force Survey states a whopping 49% of lost working days between 2016-2017 were due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. The figure is at a record high and whilst 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 stress survey this year, 59% of employed British adults experience workplace stress – by far the biggest cause of stress, with only 9% having never experienced it.
The causes of workplace stress in this survey, include an unrelenting or heavy workload, long hours, onerous procedures, office politics, lack of autonomy or flexibility, lack of reward and tensions with senior staff members or managers. All of these areas can be improved and for the sake of both the person and the organisation, they should be.
Why the fuss about stress?
Whilst 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.
Whilst there are many reasons for high staff turnover, poor management is said to be the leading cause. Spotting changes in staff behaviour is an important skill in managing 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 indicator 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
- Decreased productivity or quality of work
If you notice these kinds of changes, instead of jumping to conclusions, 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Holidays: Encourage employees to take their annual leave and 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.
- Promote balance: Both flexitime and emphasis on work carried out rather than hours spent, can help employees better manage their work-life balance. Even going for the 6-hour working day or a 4-day working week has been proven to increase productivity, even though the hours worked are fewer!
- Commuter stress: If it’s the commute that’s the root of the stress consider offering remote working for some of the time, HR software and other digital tools make remote working super easy to manage.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Environment: Lowering noise levels, lighting or temperature can help reduce physical stress caused by an uncomfortable or unproductive workplace.
- 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.
Many of these suggestions are low-cost or no-cost ways to reduce workplace stress and will benefit the whole team. If you do decide to raise wages or get extra temporary help both would cost less than losing good employees and having to replace them.
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