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How to deal with workplace stress 

Dealing with stress in the workplace

Dealing with stress in the workplace can often be a difficult subject to address. Often managers can be unaware of the issue or be aware and not know how to deal with it. If they don’t know the best way to deal with workplace stress, it can cause lasting effects on their employees.

In fact, under both the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, all employers have a legal responsibility to ensure the health safety and welfare at work for their employees. This includes minimising stress-related illnesses.

Definition of stress

Stress is defined as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. This differs from normal workplace ‘pressure’ which can be a positive and motivating factor. Instead, this ‘adverse reaction’ impacts the mental health of employees. Over time, this can also have a significant effect on their physical health. As a consequence, motivation and productivity decreases.

What the law says

As an employer, you have a legal obligation to identify any problems associated with work-related stress. It is an employer’s duty to prevent any harm to employee health caused by work. Employees should consider any long-term effect on their ability to work and consult with employees on health and safety matters.

What should an employer consider? 

To determine whether workplace stress is foreseeable, there are a number of factors that an employer should consider. This includes a workload that is more than normal for the job and unreasonable job demands compared with the demands made of others. Employers should also look for signs that the employee is suffering from stress. This includes factors such as prolonged or repeated absences and other non-work contributing factors.

Common sources of work stress

The most commons sources of work stress are low salaries, excessive workloads and little opportunity for development. In addition to this, work that isn’t engaging or challenging can also cause stress. A contributing factor to stress amongst employees is a lack of control over their role. For instance, having no targets to reach for promotion or have no say in the direction of the role. There are many other factors that contribute to workplace stress such as lack of social support, fear of being laid off or a lack of role clarity. This can often lead to conflicting demands which stem from lack of managerial support. The nature of work relationships then changes which can all add to work-related stress.

Workplace stress warning signs

There are a number of warning signs that occur when an employee is suffering from workplace stress. This includes a loss of interest in work, social withdrawal, irritability and increased absences. Fatigue, difficulty concentrating, complaints of muscle tension and headaches are also signs that stress has taken a physical toll on the employee. It can often be difficult to determine whether they are symptoms of stress. This is why communication with the employee helps to find the cause.

Longer term effects of stress

Workplace stress can take a toll on an employee’s overall health and well-being. In the short term, this can cause headaches, stomach aches, lack of sleep, concentration issues and irritability. Long-term effects such as anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system can be caused by undetected stress. Health conditions such as depression, obesity and heart disease can also affect someone suffering from stress. When this is the case, they may start to use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, drugs, alcohol, unhealthy eating or overeating.

So, what can you do to manage stress?

As an employer or manager, it is your legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of your employees. Stress in the workplace can be difficult to identify. However, it is important to take the matter seriously. Dealing with stress does not have to be hard. A few small changes can be made to ensure your employees are stress-free and the company remains productive.

1) Encourage stress busters

To help to keep stress levels at a minimum, the workplace can adopt stress busters. This can include gym memberships, flexi-time or healthy eating. Employers can also provide benefits such as health and life insurance and walk or cycle to work schemes. You can create a healthy working balance by ensuring employees don’t work long hours. This can be achieved through allocated breaks and encouraging them to be taken. This also allows employees to take some time away from screens which can be integral to decreasing stress.

2) Establish boundaries

It is important not to overlap the work and life balance. Try not to email employees in the evenings and encourage them to switch off when not at work. This means no weekend or evening calls too. Similarly, if employees are off from work for illness, respect their time off and pick up the work with them when they return. What’s more, getting appropriate cover while they are away too can help to alleviate stress.

3) Encourage holidays

Everyone can burnout from time to time if they work too many hours and work hard on a regular basis. Time to replenish and relax can actually make for a more productive workforce. Encouraging employees to disconnect and take their holidays can help them to return to pre-stress levels and function more effectively. What’s important is that employees are not contacted during their time off so they can fully unwind. In addition to this, the appropriate cover should be sorted so that they don’t come back to a huge workload.

4) Listen to your employees

Having open conversations with your employees individually can help to ensure that they are healthy. Healthy employees can be more productive, which is a good incentive to create a healthy work environment. As a challenging environment helps employees to stay motivated, employers can create development plans to help employees improve their skills. Employers can also make physical changes to the workspace to make it a more comfortable environment.

Talking to employees individually about what can help them in their roles can help determine changes that need to be made. This can include subjects such as understaffing, lack of supervision or the workplace environment. By listening to what employees say, the business can then implement measures to prevent stress.

5) Create flexible and well-designed jobs

Offering workers the opportunity to be involved in discussions regarding their role is important in preventing stress. When an employer allows employee input and shares information, it can help to reduce uncertainty about jobs and future growth. If you also align management actions with organisational goals, employees can feel valued. Solid work performance should be praised and job roles should be clearly defined with specific responsibility and goals.

6) Deal with work conflicts positively

The working environment can have a direct impact on workplace stress. Dealing with conflict in a positive way can help to reduce stress levels. Positive conflict resolutions can help to create a motivated team that works well together. Any disputes within the workplace should be dealt with professionally, giving the employees each a platform to express their concerns. Employers should also identify causes and find solutions which can lead to personal and professional growth. Employers should make sure that conflict is looked at from each side. Actions should be mutually agreed upon by staff members involved and the process should be reviewed to avoid further conflict.

7) Tackle employee absence

When employees have increased absence levels due to stress it should be dealt with appropriately. By using appropriate health services such as return to work interviews and occupational health, employees can help to identify risk factors. Furthermore, employers should respect the dignity of each employee and establish a zero-tolerance policy for harassment. Employees should all be treated fairly and be provided with opportunities to improve.

Employers can easily identify risk factors for stress by conducting informal talks, performance appraisals, return to work interviews and monitoring sickness. It only takes small steps to encourage your workforce, decrease stress levels and increase workplace performance. Furthermore, employers can give employees peace of mind when it comes to their health by offering private medical insurance, occupational health therapies or a life insurance policy, such as Relevant Life Cover. These added benefits can help to alleviate money worries, stress and motivate a loyal team of employees.