It’s a familiar feeling, isn’t it? Sometimes triggered by legitimate circumstances, but other times triggered by something as minor as leaving your packed lunch at home on a full day of meetings.
Most of us experience something stressful every single day - particularly in the workplace.
But when that stress becomes constant, it has a BIG impact on businesses.
A CIPD report suggests that as much as 47% of short-term absence and 53% of long-term absence from work is caused by stress. And it’s estimated that, because of that absence and the impact stress has on productivity, stress costs the UK economy as much as £6.5 billion every year.
If you’re feeling stressed at the thought of the cost of stress (same), it’s not all doom and gloom. Stress is recognised by the vast majority of businesses as an important workplace issue these days, and three in five organisations are actively taking steps to identify and reduce workplace stress - which is a great start.
But we’re here to boost that number even further. We want every single one of you to be armed with the tools to help manage stress in YOUR workplace, so we can help our team members feel stress-free and support them in living a positive work life!
Before we get into managing stress in the workplace, let’s take a brief detour into what stress actually is for most of us.
The problem with identifying stress is that there’s a fine line between normal, unavoidable stressful situations and a workplace that actively feels stressful most of the time.
Obviously, stress will look different in different workplaces. For high-stakes traders in the finance world, the default level of uncertainty, intensity and risk makes a ‘normal’ day stressful most of the time. But for an ordinary office in an ordinary small, medium or large organisation, the level of ‘normal’ stress will be much lower.
The nature of business is that things won’t always run smoothly. There will be uncertainty and challenge and change that team members and leaders both have to face - but those unavoidable occasions aren’t usually what contributes to the experience of stress that results in absence from work.
Absence from work because of stress usually happens when there are multiple factors at play every single day - not when there’s a one-off occasion that’s particularly stressful. So when we’re talking about managing and preventing stress in the workplace, we’re generally talking about changes that impact the normal day-to-day runnings of the business.
The UK’s Health and Safety Executive publishes Management Standards that list 6 areas of work which can affect stress in the workplace:
Imagine a workplace where the workload was overbearing, you had no say in when or how you worked, you had no support available, your colleagues and managers were always disagreeing, your role felt completely disconnected from the organisation’s mission, and changes were implemented without consideration or communication - that’s a workplace that fails on all six of those areas and would definitely be a huge cause of stress!
As a manager, team leader, people manager or supervisor, your role in the workplace is to facilitate your team to do the best work they can - which means identifying, managing and reducing the impact of stressors in the workplace.
Now that we know the areas that cause workplace stress, let’s look at 4 things you can do as a leader to help your employees better cope with the unavoidable stressors that you can’t entirely eradicate from their lives.
Being a good communicator covers all 6 areas of workplace stress. Better communication not only helps to prevent misunderstandings between leaders and employees but also helps to promote a two-way communication channel, where employees who are struggling with stress can openly express their concerns to leaders. Being aware of what’s causing employee stress gives you, as the leader, the opportunity to put measures in place to prevent that stressor from reoccurring, which will help reduce overall workplace stress.
One thing to bear in mind here though is that communication doesn’t just mean casual coffee station chats. It means being open to sharing things on a deeper level and building a real personal connection with employees, so that there’s a level of trust between everyone in the workplace.
We’ve written plenty about emotional intelligence in leaders before (like this and this) - but for good reason! As emotionally intelligent leaders, you’ll have the upper hand when it comes to providing the support, management and relationships employees need in order to manage workplace stressors.
As an emotionally effective leader, you’ll be able to:
Encouraging your team members to take better care of their mental and physical health can help to alleviate the impact of stress in the workplace. Workplace wellbeing has become a tick-box exercise for some organisations, but for those who are actively looking for ways to help employees manage stress better a well-thought-out wellness initiative can be impactful.
Workplace wellness initiatives are NOT a replacement for reducing the cause of workplace stress, but for stressors that are generally unavoidable wellness programmes (like discounted gym memberships, mental health support, etc.) can help to alleviate the impact.
It’s an undeniable fact that many of us spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our own families. So helping employees to develop positive social relationships with the people they’re spending so much of their time with is crucial in tackling workplace stress.
Not only will building better social relationships reduce the likelihood of workplace conflict (one of the core causes of workplace stress), but these relationships will also serve as a support network for employees who do experience stress, helping to mitigate the negative effects.
However, this does not mean that every workplace should introduce mandatory after-work drinks once a month. Those events often feel forced and have a negative impact on social relationships. Instead, leaders should try to lead by example and create a culture where socialising is natural in the workplace. Simply asking someone what they did at the weekend and taking a real interest in their life is enough to start building a social bond with others.
So, there we have it - 4 ways you can start tackling stress in your workplace right now.
Stress is a big topic and this is by no means the only thing we could say on the issue, but working on those four areas is a great step in the right direction. For us, helping leaders and team members to develop emotional intelligence in the workplace has a huge impact on most areas of workplace stress - and if emotional intelligence is something you think your workplace could benefit from too, check out our EQ-i 2.0 & EQ360 training options to get started.