Jeanette Wheeler, MHR’s HR Director, explores the biggest causes of stress in the workplace and outlines the measures both employees and organisations can introduce to ease the strain and support their wellbeing
Dealing with stress in the workplace
No matter the situation, sometimes it can all get a bit too much and we feel overwhelmed. Whilst a little bit of stress can help boost your creativity when a deadline approaches or you’re trying for a promotion, chronic or prolonged periods of stress creates the opposite result. And it may become difficult to think. The important thing to do in this position is to take a step back and try to evaluate the situation from an external perspective. Will the world really end if the project you’re working on won’t be ready until 9 am Monday morning rather than 5 pm Friday?
Probably not, but often it’s easier said than done, and it can be difficult to look at the bigger picture when you’re feeling under pressure. Stress within organisations can be extremely damaging, not only to employee’s health but also it could also potentially impact productivity and teamwork, so it is important that policies are in place to avoid piling on the pressure.
Here I outline three main causes of stress in the workplace, and ways to overcome them.
For your next project or piece of work, think carefully about the time it is likely to take and add in a bit extra for any unforeseen delays. Think about how many steps are needed to complete the task, and what each one will involve before you get started. Don’t forget to include research time into your plan – you can’t start anything if you don’t know everything that’s required.
Planning out plenty of time to get your tasks completed will help to take the pressure off, and avoid rushing, ensuring all completed work is the best it can possibly be. With the right amount of time, you can double check your workings, edit where necessary and triple check your work ticks all the boxes.
This is as important for individuals as it is for businesses. Better work will help to create more leads and sales, improve brand quality, and more importantly ensure happier, more productive employees.
Lack of sleep
In today’s busy lives, with work emails pinging into the night, and employees unable to switch off, the value of decent night sleep is no longer being appreciated. Working adults think it is normal or ‘part of modern life’ to only get 4-5 hours of sleep, sacrificing time in bed due to long commute times or squeezing time in at the gym. Research has shown that employees work an extra 36 days a year by checking emails and carrying out other tasks outside of their contracted hours, such as during their commute, rather than getting much-needed rest.
The problem is, this ‘always on’ attitude leads to burnout, and you’ll suddenly run out of steam. If your employees and their managers are skipping that extra hour in bed, and not taking in enough downtime, organisations will be full of ill-tempered, exhausted people with morale hitting rock bottom.
Flexible working is not a new concept, but organisations are becoming more aware of its benefits to attract and retain talent. It should also be considered as part of improving health and wellbeing too, reducing stress and boosting overall team morale by giving employees some of their time back. With no commute time and no distractions, employees can focus on the tasks they need to in a more relaxing environment. Then when they’ve worked their hours, they’re already at home to earn some well-deserved rest.
Deadlines and workload
There’s nothing worse than coming up against a deadline and panicking about whether you’re going to meet it. This can be particularly stressful if you’re constantly battling against your task list and you’re struggling to fit everything in.
It’s important to be realistic and manage expectations. Depending on who is waiting for your tasks to be completed, there may be time for a small delay without affecting those who are waiting. It’s all about priorities.
With stress, it’s also important to communicate how you feel. Let your manager or colleagues know if it feels like you have too much to do. Ask them to look at your worklist and your deadlines, see what is achievable and make a priorities list so you know what you should be working on first.
When you’re stressed, you’re less productive and may feel so overwhelmed with how much you have to do, that you can’t get any of it done. So it benefits the whole business to ensure employees have the space to work to their best potential.
How can HR teams and managers help their employees with their workloads?
Good mental health is something that we all need, just like we all need good physical health. Nearly half of adults in the UK believe they have suffered with a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their lives so it is important that people managers are comfortable enough to engage in dialogue around the subject, and this includes thinking about stress.
HR teams need to ensure that an organisation’s processes and policies consider employee wellbeing and that different departments have communication channels available to avoid creating silos. If your departments don’t talk, how can anyone collaborate effectively?
To support employees, you could consider training some of your people to become Mental Health First Aiders. As well as assisting in a crisis, Mental Health First Aiders are available to provide early intervention and guidance for someone who may be developing a mental health issue. They can offer initial support through non-judgemental listening and guidance.
You can also implement stress management and wellbeing initiatives to help employees learn how to avoid conflict and stress. By educating your workforce, and ensuring managers have the relevant people training, you can help to make sure everyone is working with the support they need.
Managers need to check in regularly with their teams, evaluate their workload and help them prioritise when to-do lists start building or redistribute tasks so everyone can plan their time more effectively. They can help manage other departments’ expectations to reduce pressure on their people and find alternative solutions when deadlines are unrealistic to achieve. This ensures employees will have the freedom to do their best and avoid unnecessary conflict.
Stress is something that can affect everyone, and with people spending so much of their time at work, it’s important organisations plan preventative measures into their employee engagement strategies.
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