Darren Hockley, managing director DeltaNet International, provides some top tips on how to boost your stress management methods
The effects of stress are a major issue in UK workplaces. More than 15 million working days were lost to work-related stress, anxiety and depression in 2017/18, affecting almost 600,000 workers.
Despite the scale of the problem, up to half of employees report doing nothing to relieve the stress of working life, with time and money constraints holding them back. Only 19% of workers say their employer offers help with fighting stress, but 79% would be welcome it if they did. Stress management is a joint responsibility between organisations and the people who work for them, so what can we do to tackle this workplace hazard?
Discuss stress openly
For workers suffering with stress-related problems, feeling safe discussing this with their managers can be a huge help. However, not everyone will feel immediately comfortable doing so in the same way they might with a physical injury, and it’s common for people who need time away from work for their mental health to blame their absence on other causes and avoid the conversation entirely.
Creating a safe environment to discuss mental health benefits employees and employers alike. It makes people less likely to take time away from work because they feel supported in their day to day life and makes those who take time away more likely to return when they’re able. An environment where employees know they will be treated respectfully on their return indicates that you are taking the right steps. This has obvious business benefits such as reducing staff turnover and avoiding the costs associated with lengthy staff absences and recruitment.
Offer flexibility and help
There are many ways that employers can support their teams as they look after their own mental health. Many of these cost little or nothing and, in many cases, can directly benefit productivity.
Providing training for staff and managers not only makes them more effective at managing their own stress but also spotting the signs of stress, anxiety and depression in their colleagues. These early signs can include:
- More time off ill than normal.
- Changes in mood, such as loss of energy or social withdrawal.
- Tiredness resulting from sleep issues.
- More frequent health problems such as colds or stomach bugs.
Employers can support staff by offering flexibility in working hours where possible, allowing people to fight stress by spending more time with their loved ones, taking part in activities and exercising. Wellbeing initiatives such as arts and crafts workshops, yoga classes, cycle to work schemes and free, healthy snacks are often genuinely appreciated by staff and show that the organisation is taking the issue of stress management seriously.
Taking up a hobby is a great way to beat stress for workers at all levels. Although it might feel as if free time is in short supply, this can become a vicious cycle and lead to burnout, so it’s important to prioritise stress-relieving activities as highly as possible. Creative hobbies such as music, writing or knitting are a good choice, and physical hobbies like a new sport provide a host of physical and mental benefits.
Look at the working environment
Creating a mentally healthy workplace is an important job that starts with an organisation’s senior leaders and requires action from all levels of the business.
We spend a lot of our waking lives at work. Giving people a place to thrive is a key part of keeping them happy and healthy. This can include the physical environment itself: providing break areas, letting in as much natural light as possible and making sure people are physically comfortable at their desks can all help.
Employers should also give due weight to the demands on their staff and the effects these might be having on stress levels. Some stress is inevitable in any workplace, but it should always be monitored and kept to healthy levels for everyone who works at an organisation. A difficult workload is the largest cause of stress, with lack of support and changes at work playing a big part – all of which are within an employer’s power to tackle. Bullying and workplace violence are also cited as major causes of stress. It’s an employer’s responsibility to make it clear that these are unacceptable under any circumstances and to deal with them appropriately if they do occur.
Stress levels are high in all industries and tackling the problem will require action at a national level. However, by taking some clear, concrete steps towards creating a mentally healthy workplace, employers can minimise the risks – and provide help for those employees who need it.