April is National Stress Awareness month. According to the Stress Management Society, one way to highlight the issue is to talk openly about feeling stressed, which will help reduce the stigma attached to the term.
After reading the guidance provided by the society, I considered how I could explore and talk about the stresses in my life. Despite my eagerness, I soon came to realise that it’s much harder to do than I first thought. When I considered why, I came to the conclusion that it’s largely because the term ‘stress’ carries a negative connotation.
My experiences of stress in the workplace
As a HR professional, I’ve supported colleagues suffering from stress but I’ve also encountered colleagues who abuse the term and their organisation’s sickness policy. Unfortunately, this meant that those colleagues who were genuinely struggling found it harder to talk about their stresses and ultimately, ask for help.
According to Web MD, being in a state of stress can have serious health implications, such as an increased risk of heart attack, a weakened immune system and depression (with all the health issues that brings).
Living in the 21st century
Modern living comes with numerous sources of stress. Everything happens at one hundred miles an hour, we are bombarded with information and constantly learning new things.
When I think about the things we all do on a day-to-day basis, we are made to self-serve more and more. For example, when I log on to one of my ever increasing number of online accounts, from personal banking to energy, I have to remember my unique username and password, each of which contains a variation of letters, numbers and symbols. Another example is shopping and the increasing prominence of self-service tills. Is it any wonder I start to feel my blood pressure rising?
On top of these continual low stress level tasks, most of us have other ‘big things’ going on in our lives. This could be a family member who is seriously ill, a relationship that is breaking down, or a struggle with finances. Add to this the stresses that come with working, such as high workloads, continual changes and difficult colleagues, and it’s surprising we get through the day!
The world we live in today is in complete contrast to previous generations. We live in huge, complex, nearly anonymous societies where it is much harder for our basic needs to be met, to feel useful, loved and respected.
I like to think our workplaces have adapted to modern life and are sympathetic to our complex needs, but I don’t think they have yet. So, as HR professionals and/or managers, what can we do to reduce the stigma associated with stress for those who are really struggling?
I think acknowledging that there is a stigma associated with stress, and that this creates an additional burden for those of us going through hard times, is a good start. Given that we can’t avoid stress, it is important that we know the causes and actively look out for the warning signs, and that we take care of ourselves properly and support each other. The first step to achieving these goals in our workplaces is by creating a culture where colleagues can admit they are struggling and not be judged. We all have the opportunity to be kind to each other, and appreciate that life is complicated and often hard for most of us.
While writing this piece, I came across a couple of interesting and helpful articles. which detail how to look after yourself and your teams, and I would certainly recommend giving these a read:
- CMI – Mental health days off and three other ways you can look after your staff
- The Muse - This Science-Backed Trick to De-stressing at Work Only Takes 5 Minutes
- Breathe HR – Employee stress in the workplace
If you want to find out more about National Stress Awareness month, or should you want to promote it, visit - http://www.stress.org.uk/national-stress-awareness-month-2019.