Stress can place huge demands on an employee’s physical and mental health and can be a major cause of long-term absence from work for some people.
As already mentioned in part one of our article, the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics are hard-hitting with 74 percent of UK adults saying they have been overwhelmed and unable to cope at work and a total of 17.9 million working days lost due to work-related stress, anxiety or depression in 2019/20.
Over recent years, the rate of work-related stress has increased, with the past year’s figures significantly higher than previous years. Tellingly, the HSE reported that COVID-19 was not the main catalyst.
Why should practices try to reduce the causes of stress at work?
Getting on top of this is an important, albeit challenging, mission and taking steps to reduce workplace stress will make staff healthier and happier at work, improve performance and increase productivity, reduce absence levels, minimise workplace disputes and conflict, and make the practice more attractive to job seekers.
What steps can you take to reduce workplace stress?
If a risk assessment identifies the areas where your practice is performing poorly and highlights the possible stressors, then you should work with your staff to agree realistic and practical ways to tackle the problems.
Take a break
Encourage your staff to take breaks regularly. This will allow them to spend time refocusing and refreshing without feeling overwhelmed by the demands of the job. A break could mean 10 minutes in the middle of the day, ensuring they can take a proper lunchbreak, a long weekend or a 10-day period of annual leave.
Give back control
A common cause of stress is not feeling in control. If an employee feels that they have no control over the nature or demands of their job, this can cause feelings of helplessness. So, if possible, reasserting control over parts of a job is a helpful step and allowing staff the freedom and flexibility to look for ways they can tailor tasks to their own preferred working style will go a long way.
Sometimes, an employer simply will not be aware of stress-related issues in their organisation. Employees often internalise their concerns or only speak of them to close friends.
Some businesses will take a workplace “temperature check” to identify issues regarding stress before they result in staff illness or impact on productivity. You may want to run an anonymous engagement survey to keep your finger on the pulse of your workplace, without being obtrusive. For staff, this provides an opportunity to raise any concerns in a safe, non-obtrusive way.
It goes without saying that feeling supported will reduce feelings of workplace stress. Therefore, it is important that staff feel able to vocalise their concerns and that these concerns are listened to. You could look to engage with an Employee Assistance Programme or an agency that is available to specialise in support and workplace counselling. Ensure that all staff are aware of the service and include it in your induction for new starters.
Supporting an employee experiencing workplace stress
Where it has been identified that a team member is suffering with workplace stress, the practice should consider what support or changes would rectify the situation. Often small, simple changes to working arrangements or responsibilities will help ease pressures affecting the individual; these are known as “reasonable adjustments”.
Even if the cause of stress may not be work-related, changes to the employee’s working arrangements may help reduce some of the pressure they are experiencing. For example, temporarily changing their working hours may reduce stress caused by caring responsibilities for an ill relative.
Prevention and early intervention
Training line managers to identify potential causes of stress in their teams and educating them on how to manage people and workloads efficiently is fundamental.
Likewise, educating your staff to ensure they understand workplace stress and the importance of asking for help, and supporting staff during periods of change and uncertainty, is key to enabling them to raise concerns.
While it is important to focus on identifying the main risks of stress to people in the workplace, it is also essential to implement measures to reduce or eradicate them.
Although line managers should hopefully be able to spot the early signs of stress and mental health issues in their team members, practices should ensure there is someone who can take responsibility for the line managers’ mental health and well-being too, as this can be overlooked.