How To Reduce Stress In The Workplace
It’s Friday afternoon and you are about as far into your URGENT to do list as you were this morning. The chances of you clocking out at five are slim to non- existing, you know very well that you will have to pick up emails over the weekend, and that all the tasks you didn’t get through today will still be there when you return on Monday. Not only will they still be there, they will be on top of all of the new tasks.
You feel tired, struggle to focus, don’t remember what you had for breakfast. Wait, did you even have breakfast? You’re working slower than normal, and all you really want to do is just wrap up in a big comfy blanket and sleep for days..
The vast majority can recognise feelings like these, but they are often ignored as they’re considered ‘part of the job’. Being thrown out at the deep end and having a few more tasks than you can get through is often how you learn new things, and it normally keeps you on your toes.
There’s a fine line between keeping people busy and at their best productivity, vs. giving them too much to do. This line can be tricky to find, but you’ve got to keep looking!
Impact of stress
Now, a lot of research has been done on the health implications of stress so we’ll skip quickly over that. But let’s just mention a few of the stress- related illnesses. Stress can lead to depression, headaches, heart disease and anxiety all of which can be some long term nasty fellas.
When employees are stressed there’s a direct economic impact on the business. That’s both in terms of total days lost because of illness, but also the drop in productivity.
In an interview with Safety + Health magazine, medical director of the Stanford Center on Stress and Health, Dr David Speigel, said:
“It’s very clear that a big proportion of safety problems are due to human error, and some of that is related to stress.”
How to identify stress
Some health and safety concerns are easy to identify. It won’t take long to find out what percentage of employees wear their PPE, or whether a risk assessment has been filled out.
Stress is a bit more difficult to pin down.
Under normal circumstances it can be expected that an employee want to do his/her best, and so when things aren’t working out as usual (often for no obvious reason), it can be hard to admit to a superior that some tasks have not been done. Thus, there will be no immediate solution to the problem.
Though stress is a more personal and intangible issue, The Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace published a list of indicators that can suggest that an employee is experiencing stress.
- Trouble concentrating
- Low morale
- Anxiety or irritability
- Alcohol or drug use
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Workplace incidents
- Workplace violence
Reduce stress in the workplace
It is first and foremost the responsibility of a company to ensure that employees have a safe work environment. Open lines of communication should always be encouraged.
There also lies a big responsibility on the individual employee for him/ her to open about weaknesses, and mistakes made. If you don’t speak up, there’s not much help to get.
To manage work- related stress The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) produced a Management Standards approach. It is a set of standards that should, if done successfully, reduce work- related stress considerably.
HSE Management Standards approach
- Demands, hours and capabilities need to match up. Don’t schedule a part time receptionist with 47 hours of work.
- Control of execution. Whenever possible, give employees control of how they wish to carry out their tasks.
- Make a strong support network. People should feel able to ask for help, and you should help them. Always.
- Role understanding. It is vital that an employee understand his/her role properly, or they will not be able to do their job well.
- Change and communication. Large or small, organisational change needs to be communicated effectively throughout the organisation.
Follow the standards approach set out by HSE and you’ll be off to a good start.
It is worth noting that stress isn’t always related to any of the indicators or causes suggested by HSE. Stress can be a very personal issue and it is often a ‘no shoe fits all’ kind of dilemma.
Encourage two way communications, ensure your employees that you take work- related stress seriously, and make a plan with the individual involved to overcome it and get back on top.
This is a guest post written by Aimee McGuinness. Aimee works with Safety Training Scotland providing expert knowledge and advice on all things health and safety.
We at HSEWise have written a series of stress management posts. Click that link to see them!