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Strategies for reducing work-related stress

As Stress Awareness Month unfolds, it’s crucial for employers to grasp the impact of stress on their workforce.

April marks the UK’s 32nd Stress Awareness Month the theme of which is ‘Little by Little’ which has been devised to encourage people to understand how little and consistent effort can help with stress.  

Current estimates suggest 51% of long-term sick leave in the UK is attributed to stress.  55% of workers state they feel work is getting more demanding and intense and 67% of workers say they can’t switch off and feel compelled to check emails outside of work hours. When this is combined with external factors such as the impact of the cost of living crisis, the lasting impact of the pandemic, the increased cost of childcare and a general rise in mental health conditions across the population the team, at Cream HR believes it is no surprise that more and more people claim they feel exhausted at the end of every day (61%).  Anthony Sutton, Director of Cream HR, believes that there are small steps that employers can take that can help their teams manage stress.

Anthony said “with time off work due to struggles with mental health reportedly costing businesses in the UK £28 billion per year  it’s worth all business leaders looking at ways they can support their staff, not only during stress awareness month but all year round.  Budgets are tight for lots of people at the moment but making the work environment less stressful doesn’t have to be expensive. Whilst booking big team away days or huge Christmas parties can be great, it’s actually the smaller everyday changes that will have the biggest impact on stress levels.”

Lead by example

Rates of work-related stress are high but it isn’t a problem that the employee should have to solve alone.  Managers and leaders play an important role in combating work-related stress by the behaviours they model.

Change has to start at the top so it’s imperative to lead by example.  Be vocal about your own stresses and how you manage them.  Educate people in your business about spotting the signs of stress and how they can address them.  

Where managers lead, the organisation will follow.

Develop a supportive workplace culture

A workplace where people can talk openly about their struggles and stresses or other aspects of their mental health, whilst feeling safe and free of judgement can have a huge impact on managing stress within the workforce.

That’s not to say that developing this type of culture doesn’t have its challenges especially in businesses where there hasn’t been a focus on well-being before.

The first thing to do is to simply get the conversation started and begin to break down the stigma that sadly still surrounds stress and mental health.

Lots of people will be wary of discussing their mental health concerns due to fears that it will impact their career prospects. It needs to be made clear that this isn’t the case.

The starting point could be something as simple as regularly checking in on how people are doing.  This is the first step to developing a supportive workplace culture.

Be transparent

To give the best support to employees it’s important to be clear and open with them.  This means being honest and acknowledging times of uncertainty whether that’s caused by events like the pandemic, rumours of redundancy or any difficult situation that might impact your team.

Be clear with your expectations.  This can include things such as expecting employees to have clear boundaries when working from home or expecting deadlines to be met (if extensions haven’t been discussed).  Something as simple as this can reduce employee stress.

Finally, be transparent when it comes to their goals – make sure they’re clear and achievable.

Reduce concern during times of change

Change happens all the time and the workplace is no different.  It’s important not to underestimate the effect change can have on the well-being of employees.  Things that might be considered small changes can still impact morale and stress levels.

When going through periods of change make sure people are informed, motivated and feel trusted.

Let employees know about any changes that are happening, explain the reasons behind the changes, encourage questions and answer them honestly.

Manage workload

One of the most common causes of work-related stress is workload.  If the volume of work or deadlines is beyond what an employee can manage it can become a great source of pressure.

As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that people can cope and that if they can’t they feel they can talk about it. You can do this by:

  • Setting demands that are achievable within the hours that they work
  • Ensuring that an employee’s skills and abilities match the needs of the job
  • Dealing with any concerns people have about the demands of the job
  • Make sure there are regular meetings for individuals and teams where upcoming workloads can be discussed and inform them of any known busy times
  • Let employees know about any unplanned tight deadlines or sudden need to work longer hours.

Anthony said: “Creating a less stressful environment doesn’t have to cost money or even take more time but having a team that is stress free, or at least experiencing minimal work stress and feeling happy, could save you money in terms of recruiting, absence and more.  Your people are you biggest and most important investment so it is important that you look after them”

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