Are we approaching a stress pandemic?
According to the Mental Health Foundation, in 2018 74% of people felt so stressed they were overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Stress is bad news in itself, but it can also lead to a host of other problems. Each individual sick day taken will cost employers approximately £107.85, and it’s estimated that sick leave costs UK employers around £29bn each year.
CIPD figures show that stress is the one of the biggest causes of unplanned absences in the workplace.
You’ll never be able to totally eradicate stress in the workplace. Some jobs are inherently high-pressure, and many businesses operate to tight deadlines. However, as an employer there’s a lot you can do to stop things from spiraling out of control.
Managing stress in the workplace needs to be an ongoing commitment. But it might surprise you just how simple it can be to help your employees avoid burnout.
This is one area where the smallest thing can make a huge difference.
Here 7 simple ways to manage workplace stress:
1. Address All the Common Causes of Stress in the Workplace
The mental health specialists at Verywell Mind compiled a list of some of the biggest causes of stress in the workplace.
Give it a read and think about the ways you, as an employer, can help to remove these factors.
For example, many employees suffer from job burnout simply because it’s unclear what exactly is expected of them. If their job requirements change with little notice, they may struggle to stay on top of things. You can help fight this through simply making everyone’s responsibilities, and your expectations, as clear as possible.
Workplace conflict is another major source of stress for workers. Obviously, office politics will always be a thing. But if you create an environment where everyone feels listened to, and if you can make it clear that your employees’ opinions count, you may be able to nip many would-be conflicts in the bud.
2. Promote a Good Work Life Balance
All work and no play can result in stress, anxiety and burnout. It’s bad for your employees’ health, which means it’s bad for business.
There are many ways you can promote a good work/life balance in your company. Flexible working’s a big one. If employees are willing and able to work remotely, then let them. Remote working means less time (and money) spent on stressful commutes, and more time spent in an environment in which your employees can truly feel safe and comfortable.
You could also offer generous leave for new parents while making it clear that if your employees ever need to take time off, for whatever reason, then you’ll be willing to accommodate. The idea is that you won’t let work get in the way of some of life’s more pressing issues – from new born babies to dental appointments.
Finally, you could discourage your employees from working overtime. When the clock hits 5pm, or whatever time you officially finish work, then make it clear that all work must stop immediately.
Don’t frown upon your employees for only wanting to work their allocated hours. And if a particularly pressing project demands overtime, make sure you offer TOIL tracking, so that your employees can make up the time elsewhere.
3. Introduce Nature to the Workplace
Have you heard of biophilia? It’s the idea that we humans have an innate urge to seek connections with nature. Long story short, time spent in the natural world can reduce stress and anxiety.
Look to the natural world as your secret weapon to reducing stress in the workplace. Are your premises located near a park, or another green public space? Then encourage your employees to take walks in the fresh air during their breaks!
But even if you happen to be located in the middle of a concrete business park, it’s still easy to introduce nature to your workplace. A plant or two on each workstation can make a huge difference. And if you make your employees responsible for taking care of the office plant life, you’ll be able to subtly nurture everyone’s innate biophilic tendencies.
Think of the light, too. Too much artificial light can stress people out – especially if it’s the sort of bright fluorescent’s found in many offices. Look for ways you can flood your office with healthy natural light instead.
4. Encourage Healthy Eating
We recently took a look at seven of the best employee wellbeing programs. There were many common themes among these corporate wellness initiatives. A major one that jumped out to us was that many of the world’s most successful companies make a point of championing healthy eating.
There’s a strong link between nutrition and stress. And unfortunately, unhealthy food appears to be the default in the workplace. Think of the sort of salty, sugary snack foods found in many vending machines, and the quick-fix sandwiches and fast-food many employees turn to when they’re too busy to prepare a nutritious meal.
So how can you encourage healthy eating in the workplace? The successful companies we looked at can afford to provide their workers with free canteens staffed by expert chefs who specialise in healthy meals. You might not be able to afford this, but you can choose to stock your vending machines with healthier choices, and to provide complimentary fruit bowls.
You can also encourage your staff to think more about the food they eat. Perhaps you could organise a weekly or monthly fuddle? That’s a “food huddle”, a communal buffet to which everyone participates. Set the rules to encourage your employees to focus on health and nutrition. Maybe you could stipulate that everything brought to the fuddle must be vegan, or else made from all-natural ingredients?
5. Encourage a More Active Lifestyle
This is the other side of the coin. As well as promoting healthy eating, the most successful companies we look at also promote active lifestyles.
Exercise reduces stress. If you can encourage your employees to exercise more, you can help to manage stress in the workplace.
Some companies can afford to provide their employees with full-sized basketball courts and Olympic-standard swimming pools, but you don’t have to go that far. You might offer subsidised gym memberships, cycle to work schemes, or time off for employees who want to train for marathons and other epic endeavors.
And remember when we were talking about biophilia above? Encourage your employees to take walks during their breaks and they’ll be exercising while immersing themselves in the natural world – two stress-busting benefits in one!
6. Take the Time to Understand Your Employees
We’ve written before about how employers need to understand the wider issues surrounding mental health.
And yes, there are books you can read and courses you can attend to better grasp this issue. But when it comes to understanding just what might be stressing out your employees, you can learn quite a bit through conducting routine return to work interviews.
Say an employee takes a few days off for stress related reasons. When they return to work, sit down and talk to them. Ask them for their thoughts on what causes the stress, and let them know that you’ll be happy to help avoid any issues in the future.
Apart from anything else, a simple return to work interview will let you know whether the stress is coming from the workplace, or from somewhere else. In any case, the interview will help you to understand whether there’s anything your business can do to alleviate the stress, or to prevent making any issues your employee’s facing at home any worse.
7. Remember that Prevention is Better than a Cure
Tackling the root causes of stress is always preferable to helping an employee to recover from a stress or anxiety crisis.
Some good absence management software can help you to spot certain patterns. Clear reporting could demonstrate that one employee has been taking sporadic days off over the course of months.
Had you not been able to spot the pattern this employee may have continued to suffer in silence. But if you see signs that something’s amiss, you can intervene before the problem’s allowed to get any worse.