Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Keeping workplace stress under control

Stress can differ depending on the workplace and the individual role of an employee. Some stress can be conducive to good results in that it can help with focus and concentration. However, if an employee is continuously placed in stressful situations or is finding their workload or work environment stressful, their mental health can be affected. Discover how both employees and managers can take steps to ensure workplace stress is handled effectively and kept under control. 

Common causes of stress in the workplace

According to the Health and Safety Executive, the rate of work-related stress, anxiety and depression has increased in recent years. Work-related stress can be attributed to:

  • Extended hours – working for long hours without any sensible breaks for rest, food, and sleep can cause extreme tiredness which will result in stress and depression.
  • A heavy workload – when work isn’t distributed properly, and one person takes on more work than they can manage, it can become a huge burden that creates feelings of desperation and anxiety.
  • Disorganised management – It can be confusing and stressful to deal with inconsistent management or not be given proper instructions or direction.
  • Personal problems – if an employee has problems in their personal life these can impact on their productivity and concentration which will ultimately lead to stressful situations.
  • Bullying – Bullying in the workplace can have a huge effect on a person’s mental wellbeing, causing them to feel sad, lonely, and depressed. 
  • Lack of autonomy – if employees are micro-managed, they may feel undermined and not trusted. 

What are the effects of stress?

Stress is the body's way of reacting to situations that could cause us harm. When we feel stressed, we immediately release chemicals into our blood stream which increase our blood pressure, heart rate and rate of breathing and cause our muscles to tighten. This is known as the 'fight or flight' response. In the short term, these changes allow us to face the stressor head on ('fight') on or run away ('flight'). However, if we are exposed to long-term stress, the stress chemicals remain in our blood stream over long periods and as a result we may find it difficult to relax; want to avoid other people; feel low in energy; and experience headaches, insomnia, and loss of libido. We may even become more susceptible to colds and infections. Those who are exposed to ongoing stress may feel pessimistic about their life and those around them and may experience a loss or increase in appetite, increased alcohol or drug use, and could develop habits such as nail-biting and fidgeting.

Even one or just some of these symptoms of stress can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing. In a report by NCBI, long term stress has even been cited as a possible cause of some personality disorders.

How to successfully manage workplace stress

  • Treat employees as individuals and establish their personal needs. This can be ascertained via regular meetings and by informing employees that they can approach you with any concerns or needs they may have.
  • Allow for a two-way conversation during meetings so you can establish what changes, if any, need to be made in the workplace. Invite employees to provide feedback and suggestions on current work practices and potential improvements. 
  • Make it clear that bullying and discrimination will not be tolerated in the workplace and that there can be extreme disciplinary consequences should an employee be guilty of either. Encourage staff to speak with their supervisors or other relevant management should they experience bullying or discrimination. 
  • If an employee feels overwhelmed by their workload, help them organise their time better by breaking down tasks into manageable chunks and by allocating realistic deadlines for each task.
  • Redistribute work should an employee's current workload be too much for them to handle.
  • Staff may feel anxious if they are required to finish work within a set time frame. Determine whether a flexible working week would be better for their situation. This could include some days working from home and shorter hours in the office to accommodate appointments and other commitments.
  • Provide access to resources that will help employees deal with stress such as the NHS MInd Matters service.

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