How to manage stress in the workplace

Wed 01 Mar 2023

Angela Tracey-Brown

Product Manager - CMI

Over 800,000 men and women currently suffer from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, according to the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

While today’s lifestyles may show a certain degree of stress has become the norm in many people’s lives, in some circumstances it can even have a positive impact, a growing number of people are feeling unhealthy levels of stress in the workplace. 

As a Manager or HR Advisor you want to decrease the stress levels of your colleagues in the workplace, and ideally before it becomes an issue for the whole team. 

So, how can you identify if a colleague is suffering from stress, and what can you do to support them and make sure it is kept at a healthy and productive level?

What is stress?

Stress is our response to something we identify as a threat or major challenge and causes your body to enter “fight or flight” mode. During this mode, your body is flooded with a mix of chemicals that gives you the energy and drive to either deal with the perceived threat or run away from it. This reaction can cause both physical and mental responses that have an overall effect on your sense of wellbeing.

What can cause stress?

In the workplace, there can be many sources of stress that can have an impact on a colleague’s happiness and productivity. These can come directly from the workplace or from wider ‘life events’. For example:

At work

  • High workload
  • Limited time to do work
  • Long hours
  • Changes in the workplace
  • Lack of autonomy at work
  • Boring work
  • Lack of resources to complete work
  • Harassment or discrimination
  • Unfriendly working environment
  • Insufficient skills for tasks
  • Lack of promotional opportunities
  • Starting a new job role

At home

  • Big life changes
  • Family issues 
  • Illness
  • Financial issues
  • Bereavements

How does stress affect the workplace?

Too much stress can have a serious impact on a person’s health and ability to work. It can cause colleagues to be less productive, create negativity and encourage absence in the workplace because they are feeling tired, unmotivated, rushed or incompetent. 

When stress effects sleep and energy levels, it can lead to colleagues being irritable and unfriendly at work, which has a knock on effect on the wider team as it can cause the overall working environment to be less enjoyable. 

There is also actual physical problems that stress can lead to, such as headaches and backaches that make it difficult for people to carry out their duties at work. 

How do you know if people at work are stressed?

Not everyone is confident enough to express that they are struggling with stress for fear that it will make them look incompetent to other members of the team. It can also be difficult for individuals to realise how stressed they are until afterwards. 

If you spot any of the following signs in a colleague, if could be they are suffering from stress and be in need of support:

  • More frequent smoking or swearing
  • Loss of appetite or excessive eating
  • Snapping at others
  • Tiredness
  • Avoiding difficult people, tasks or situations
  • Signs of pain 
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Lack of concentration
  • Restlessness

Effective stress prevention techniques

There are a huge number of factors that can cause stress, however as a Manager or HR Adviser, there are only so many that are within your control to offer a solution to and help prevent arising in your team. Solutions that can be implemented include:

  1. Allow flexible working hours
    This will help colleagues to fit their job around their wider lifestyle and potentially help to reduce stress caused by factors in their home life such as family or housing. This also means that colleagues will be more likely to, for example, stay late to finish tasks before deadlines if they know they can earn time back later.
  2. Focus on the positives
    Highlighting how much they have accomplished can have a real positive impact and help to motivate your team. 
  3. Increase the level of autonomy
    Giving your team freedom and independence will help them to feel trusted, competent and more in control of their work. If work gets done, does it necessarily need to be done in a specific way?
  4. Be open to questions
    If your team feels like they can talk to you and ask for help, it can lead to them feeling less stressed about tasks they aren’t as confident about.
  5. Encourage breaks and holidays
    It is unrealistic for a human to stay focused on work for six to eight hours a day. Acknowledging this and encouraging colleagues to take a break from their desk occasionally can help them to get away from the stresses and get crucial time to refocus. It’s also extremely important for people to use their full holiday entitlement to allow them to feel relaxed, refreshed and to avoid burn-out. 
  6. Create workplace habits for your team
    Starting and ending the day with a certain activity can promote some structure in your team, even if everything feels chaotic. These tasks could be as simple as tidying, writing lists of the day’s accomplishments or planning the next day. Habits can also allow colleagues to switch off work outside of working hours, ensuring they come back the next day feeling refreshed and ready to start the new day.
  7. Let your team play to their strengths
    Everybody is good at different things, even within the same job role. When assigning any tasks to your team, help them to focus on the work they’re great at. You could always recommend them a management and leadership course to upskill and boost their strengths and confidence. This will enable them to feel less stress as they’ll feel valued, proficient and skilled.
  8. Develop good relationships with your team
    You don’t have to be best friends with everyone in your team but having trust and good communication goes a long way to combatting stress in the workplace. Everybody should be comfortable enough to be able to talk about things that might be causing them stress, including situations outside of the workplace. 

Make sure to ask your colleagues how they are every day, follow up anything they’ve mentioned in the past and share information about yourself when appropriate. It helps to build a great rapport. Once you have a basic idea of what is happening in people’s lives, it’s easier to adjust who you assign tasks to. For example, if somebody has a new baby, they probably aren’t getting any sleep and therefore, may not be the best person to assign a highly detailed task to. 

Techniques to manage stress

If you’ve noticed that colleagues are suffering from signs of stress, there are a few things you can do as their Manager or HR Adviser to help them feel less so:

  • Figure out what is causing stress and help them to develop a plan to reduce it
  • Encourage them to exercise such as walking during lunch or taking short, frequent breaks
  • Host workshops away from the main work area with fun but insightful activities 
  • Set challenges to help them to build their confidence and resilience
  • Look for ways to work smarter, not harder
  • Improve your Human Resources or Leadership and Management skills with a course.

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