Stress is the body’s response to pressure from a situation or life event. The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work-related stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand places on them at work”. Individuals can become stressed when they perceive they don’t have the resources needed to cope with these demands. In the UK, over 11 million working days are lost a year due to work-related stress.
Stress is considered the 3rd most common reason for short-term employee absence while it and mental ill-health is the main cause of long-term absence, absence of four weeks or more. According to findings of the Health and Wellbeing at Work report from Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Simply Health, the most common cause of stress-related absence is workload and long working hours which are associated with increases in reported mental health problems. Actively promoting good mental well-being and encouraging openness and awareness about mental health are crucial. Other causes include lack of managerial support and management style, poor working relationships, hostile work environment and a large amount of organisational change or restructuring.
Work-related stress can lead to changes in behaviour or performance. Some of these changes include:-
- Declining/inconsistent performance
- Lack of motivation or commitment
- Memory lapses
- Overreaction to problems
- Immature behaviour
- Temper outbursts
- Out of character behaviour
- Difficulty relaxing
- Withdrawal and reduced social contact
- Increased consumption of alcohol
- Increased smoking
- Lack of interest in appearance/hygiene
- Tension headaches
- Rapid weight gain or loss
Prevention and early intervention are the best ways of addressing and reducing work-related stress. What this pandemic has shown is that it is possible to adopt a more flexible way of working.
- Actively encourage flexible working for all
- Promote healthy behaviours and exercise
- Provide people with adequate training and support to do their jobs well
- Ensure that systems are compatible with different ways of working
- Increase the level of support during times of uncertainty
- Have stress management and relaxation techniques training
- Offer training which can build personal resilience, e.g. coping techniques and cognitive behaviour therapy.
Line managers have an important role to play in dealing with workplace stress. Managers need proper training on how to prevent and deal with stress. The line manager is in a unique position to identify and deal with any potential stressors an employee may experience as they are in direct contact with the employee. The manager is usually the first person an employee goes to if they are feeling stressed or require any support.
It is essential that a line manager:-
- Gets to know each employee in their team and understands their circumstances
- Find out what works best for them
- Practises self-care and models healthy behaviour
- Encourages employees to take regular breaks and annual leave
- Learns how to identify the early signs and symptoms of work related stress
- Has realistic work expectations and regularly review workload and responsibilities
It is vitally important that organisations build employee resilience to life’s pressures, have a people-centred wellbeing agenda and have workplace initiatives that help people manage stress and enable them to perform to their best ability long-term.
Jolene King is Principal Consultant of 246 King Consulting (https://246king.com). She is a trained Occupational Psychologist, experienced Human Resources professional, a qualified Mental Health First Aider and is trained in mental health conditions and exercise, health and nutrition. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.