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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 and not know how to deal with it. If they are not informed about the best way to deal with workplace stress, it can cause lasting effects on their employees.

In fact, under 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 can be distinct from normal workplace pressure which can often be a positive and motivating factor. An adverse reaction can impact the mental health of employees and have a significant effect on their physical health. As a consequence, this can decrease motivation and the effectiveness of the workplace.

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 have been found to be low salaries, excessive workloads and few opportunities for growth or advancements. Following this, work that isn’t engaging or challenging and not having enough control over job-related decisions can be a cause of workplace stress. Furthermore, lack of social support, fear of being laid off and a lack of role clarity also accompanied by conflicting demands, lack of managerial support and the nature of work relationships can all contribute 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, irritable employees and increased absences. Furthermore, signs such as fatigue, trouble concentrating, complaints of muscle tension and headaches are also signs that stress has taken a physical toll on the employee.

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, stomachaches, lack of sleep, concentration issues and irritability. Longer-term effects such as anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system can be caused by unexamined 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 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 establish a healthy process in dealing with such circumstances. 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, stress busters can be put in place. This can include gym memberships, flexi-time for hobbies and family and healthy eating. Furthermore, employers can 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 too long hours. Ensuring workers take allocated breaks and take some time away from screens can be integral in decreasing stress.

2) Establish boundaries

It is important not to overlap the work and life balance. Try not to email in the evenings, encouraging them to switch off from their emails or call up during dinner times or weekends. Similarly, if employees are off from work, respect their time off and pick up the work with them when they return.

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 their health and safety. Healthy employees can be more productive, which is a good incentive to create a healthy work environment that promotes wellbeing. Effective plans can be established to help employees improve their skills and develop within the company. A challenging and meaningful environment helps them to stay motivated. Employers can make physical changes to the workspace to make it a better and more comfortable environment. As well as this, talking to employees individually about specific factors that might make their jobs stressful can help to identify solutions. This includes things such as understaffing, lack of supervision and the overall workplace environment.

5) Create flexible and well-designed jobs

Giving workers the flexibility to have opportunities and discussions about decisions that affect their jobs is important. Employee input and sharing information can help to reduce uncertainty about jobs and future growth. If you also align management actions with organisational goals, individuals can feel like their work is valued. Good 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. It can 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 identify the causes and handle conflict positively 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 in such circumstances and opportunities should be given to help performance if this is suffering as a result.

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.