April marks the start of Stress Awareness month, with April 16th the prescribed day focusing on stress in the US. This awareness is becoming increasingly important and the statistics back this up. Around 20% of people say that they find work either very or extremely stressful. Further, more than half a million report experiencing a level of work-related stress which individuals believe has made them ill. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 40% of work-related illnesses can be attributed to anxiety, depression and stress. In the UK, they also found that this percentage of work-related illnesses contributed 12.5 million working days being lost during 2016-2017. This is further ratified by research from the CIPD’s 2018 Health and Wellbeing report, which found that stress is the greatest contributor to long-term work absence and the second greatest contributor to short-term absence. Furthermore, over a third of those surveyed reported that stress-related absence increased over the past year.
These staggering figures are evidence that stress is taking a real toll on the workforce. We’ve compiled a list of helpful tips and useful tactics to reduce stress in the workplace both as an employer and as an employee.
Recharge your batteries
Avoiding chronic stress and eventual burnout are key to improving an individual’s health. You, the individual, need to make sure that you spend enough time relaxing and ‘switching off from work’. Needless to say, don’t skimp on sleep!
Have a healthy response
When confronted with stressors, try to build a healthy response for when they arise. This process develops over time and initially it may seem difficult. When stressors arise don't use unhealthy choices to overcome the short-term stress. Instead, try to build resilience to the stress. Have a read of Mental Health UK’s booklet on ‘Managing stress and building resilience in the workplace’ for greater insight.
Keep a track off what is stressing you
This tactic ties nicely in with the previous idea. Try to keep a journal of the things or situations which have stressed you out over a period of time. Record your thoughts, feelings and information concerning the incident. Recording information can help to identify patterns and in turn develop an action plan for building resilience to stressors.
Build a support network
Building a network and accepting help from others is vitally important, especially in the individualistic culture of the westernized world. It may be family, friends, colleagues or even your manager. Some employers may have stress management resources which include online resources, counselling and if needed, and referral to mental health professionals.
Exercise and Nutrition
Aerobic exercise – that which raises the heart rate – is an especially effective method to increase mood, health and energy, as well as (almost paradoxically) relaxing the mind and body. Conversely, rhythmic exercise – i.e. yoga, dancing, walking etc. – helps to relax the nervous system. Research suggests to try and get at least 30 minutes a day of either.
Nutrition is super important as I’m sure you are all aware. According to HelpGuide.org, make sure you try to minimize excess sugar and refined carb intake; reduce the intake of foods that may adversely affect your mood (this differs between people, for example, caffeine can increase anxiety in some of the population) and drink alcohol in moderation.
Know the stress symptoms
People react to stress in different ways. As a manager/employer it is important to know the classic signs of stress, so you can help early on.
Identify the source of work-related stress
This tactic takes time and effort to truly make a difference. As a manager/supervisor/employer you need to work with the employee to try and identify the source of stress. It is important to note that often the employee’s stressors can be the result of a supervisor’s behaviour. Here are some management tips for the effective management of employee stress:
It is important not to underestimate the importance of longer-term considerations. They will take more time and effort to setup than shorter strategies, but they hold a lot more power. Possible ideas for longer term strategies include: training; self-help ideas and planning; 3rd party help (i.e. employee assistance programmes); flexible working plans or changes in the work environment itself.
The talking toolkit
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently released a new Talking Toolkit to help employers prevent work-related stress.The toolkit is comprised of six conversation templates which have been designed to support managers and employees to talk about issues which may be causing work-related stress. Download the toolkit here.
Stress is becoming a larger more inherent problem across the workforce. Tackling stress and its unhealthy correlates is an important issue which employees and employers alike need to work together to solve.