Helping your staff cope with stress

The CIPD (2011) has identified stress as the number one cause of long-term sickness absence with poor management style being the top of work-related anxiety. Work related stress is also linked to lost productivity, low morale, high staff turnover and can result in a higher risk of accidents in the workplace. Here, Stephenie Hodge looks at some of the key drivers of stress in the workplace and how to manage them.

30% of SME decision makers admit workforce stress is hitting their business with stress related absence levels increasing by 27% over the last two years.

Businesses could be losing in excess of £1 billion in direct costs as a result of staff taking time off due to work-related stress. One in five employees has taken time off work due to stress, with Monday accounting as the most stressful day of the week.

In a tough economic climate and ever increasing and demanding workloads, it’s hard not to feel the extra pressure at times.

Manage teams well and the individuals feel more able to cope and will rise to the challenge. However, managed incorrectly could have the opposite effect with the individual becoming unable to cope with the stress. The ability to cope with stress and balance workload has a direct correlation with a manager’s performance (ILM, 2013). Teams and managers could be at the heart of both the cause and solution or stress-related problems. Organisations need to foster the right conditions and provide the necessary training.

Addressing workforce challenges and risks is becoming an essential part of achieving better performance and greater growth for UK SMEs. If these issues are not addressed, then they could have serious long-term consequences for business stability and performance.

Most of us admit that we work better under pressure against deadlines and a degree of stress can aid performance. However, people have different ways of dealing with stress, a situation that could be motivating and challenging for one person could feel stressful to someone else. Stress can affect how we feel, think and behave. Work related stress develops because a person is unable to cope with the demands being placed on them, coupled with not being correctly supported.

Stephenie Hodge is senior lecturer in marketing and HR at the Warrington School of Management

It all starts with the Culture of the Organisation

Culture is driven from the top down so managers have the responsibility to nurture the well-being of the team, supporting positive beliefs and attitudes which will in turn help to set the tone for a workplace environment that champions open lines of communication. Organisations can slip into a culture where employees are expected to work all hours at any cost.

Occasionally it may be required to take work home; however, if this is on a regular long-term basis then it is usually a sign that something is wrong, another stress trigger. We need to get away from work at the end of the day, both for our mental and physical well-being. 21% of employees take work home at least twice a week. Addressing workforce challenges is an essential part of achieving better performance and greater growth for businesses.

Providing Support

The more managers know what makes their team tick, the greater the chance of noticing the signs and taking the appropriate action to support and elevate the cause. They need to understand how their management style and behaviour impacts on the people they manage.

Managers can either cause or exacerbate stress or help prevent and manage it. It is in employers’ interests to ensure managers have the necessary people management skills to manage and prevent stress.

Relieving stress in the workplace makes work a more positive place and delivers mutual benefits. Stress will not disappear, within organisations we just need to learn how to manage our teams.

Prevention is the best cure, create and nurture the appropriate sets of conditions. De-stress the working environment by:

  • Talking – small adjustments such as altering hours, even on a temporary basis may help to supress the issue
  • Training if applicable
  • Listening
  • Supporting
  • Motivation
  • Empowerment
  • Mentoring system
  • Effective and timely communication
  • Clear vision and understanding of values
  • Fare and consistent
  • Flexible approach
  • Knowing teams’ strengths and weaknesses

People are the lifeblood of any business and looking after them by ensuring that stress levels are balanced is vital if a company wants to attract the most skilled employees and retain existing talent. Companies that do this will be best positioned to take advantage for the future.


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