HR · 10 July 2019

Minimising the impact of stress in the workplace

We all know that happy, healthy and engaged employees are more productive, and there is lots of research to back this up. A recent World Health Organization (WHO) led study estimates “that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$1 trillion each year in lost productivity.”

What’s the cause of stress in the workplace?

The CIPD Health and Well-being at Work Survey April 2019 say the top causes of long-term absence are mental ill health at 59% and Stress at 54%.

The top three causes of stress-related absence are due to tough workloads and a high volume of work, (62%). Following this, workplace stress can manifest due to management style, (43%), and relationships at work at, (30%). However, only 50% think managers have bought into the importance of well-being.

Businesses have to change, but change can also cause stress

We rarely think about how change initiatives within organisations can be the causes of huge stress. This is due to the added workload and disruption to routines. To add insult to injury, a startlingly 75% of all change management initiatives fail. Knowing that 33% of change fails because of poor management, you can see why it can cause so much stress.

Leaders need to understand the change for themselves and help their teams understand the need for change. This allows time for feedback and questioning. Shielding employees from ‘bad news’ results in mistrust as people would rather hear bad news, and be able to plan for it, than no news at all. Even in situations of redundancy and downsizing, engagement levels have risen because open and transparent communication has allowed employees to have certainty and the ability to plan ahead.

Time pressures on managers

Managers often face time shortages, but they should prioritise meetings with their staff.

Managers are busy, which means the first thing that gets cancelled are the regular 1-2-1s with team members. Formal and regular 1-2-1s allow employees to share how they are feeling, where they are with their work, to feedback on what’s gone well and what hasn’t. But it’s also a good time for managers to clarify expectations, targets, and support with their staff. Even the most skilled and competent employees need to check that what they’re doing is on track. This time with their manager reinforces to employees that they matter- often just given time to be heard can be of great benefit.

Building trusting relationships

This can minimise stress, as well as increase commitment and improving productivity in ways that don’t always get measured. When we trust the people around us, we don’t see them as threats and high performing teams usually have strong relationships in and outside of work. We know from Paul Zak’s work into the neuroscience of trust, that taking time to get to know each other gives us a sense of security resulting in the release of Oxytocin (the empathy hormone).

In order to forge meaningful relationships, we need time to find the things that connect us, such as lifestyle, education, and upbringing, which can make us feel secure with the people around us because they ‘are like us’.

Coffee breaks might be seen as unproductive time, but can be valuable time where people just get to know each other.

Working in supportive and caring teams will also allow people to better cope in stressful situations together. Having a friend at work that you can confide in can be a huge relief – someone who knows what work is like and can ‘chew the fat’ with you.

Good sleep prevents stress in the workplace

Lack of sleep can increase stress levels.

Sleep is often overlooked but getting a good night sleep is crucial in our ability to deal with the daily challenges of work. We rarely think of how what we eat, may impact upon our mood and influence our subsequent behaviours.

As biological entities, we need good quality sleep, and good quality food (full of nutrients rather than empty calories) and hydration (drink plenty of water) to ensure we are focused, concentrating and ready for the demands of work.

In a fast-paced world, meals can be skipped, we work all hours, meaning sleep is disturbed and we wonder why getting through the day feels like such hard work.

Whilst stress at work is unavoidable with the pace of change, and with leaders and managers under greater pressures, focusing on a few key areas can help to minimise some of this stress.

By ensuring we have regular open communication and strong relationships at work and an encouragement to take time to think, can mean rather than survive, we can thrive, allowing us to be our best and helping our teams to be their best in an ever-changing world.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Amrit Sandhar is the founder of The Engagement Coach. He has worked with a number of well-known brands across the UK, to improve employee engagement/ experience, ultimately to improve organisational productivity. With a particular passion for neuroscience and psychology to drive behavioural change, combined with his experience in employee engagement, he uses a data-driven approach to identify the issues organisations are struggling with, and to work with them to create solutions leading to drive sustainable change. Amrit is a values-led individual who has a passion for developing people, as he believes highly engaged leaders drive better business performance by getting the best out of their colleagues.

Work and Wellbeing