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Stress: Recognising a Workplace Epidemic

The 4th-8th November 2019 is International Stress Awareness Week, with Wednesday 6th November recognised as National Stress Awareness Day by mental health charity Mind.

These events are important for raising awareness of an issue that affects around 600,000 workers a year in the UK and is one of the leading causes of sickness absence. But for employers to really tackle the root of workplace stress, it needs to be a concerted effort. The first step? Recognising stress in the workplace when it occurs.

Know the Signs of Stress in the Workplace

Symptoms of workplace stress can appear in teams and in individuals. Training managers to recognise them is important for noticing them before they become a major problem.

Early signs that someone might be suffering from problematic stress might include:

• Lots of time off ill.

• Changes in mood, including social withdrawal.

• Fatigue and loss of enthusiasm.

If stress problems run throughout the team, it can negatively affect the group dynamics. Some signs might be:

• More conflict and frayed tempers.

• Loss of enthusiasm for taking on new tasks and responsibilities – especially if people feel they’re already overwhelmed.

• More sickness absence and high turnover.

Each case of stress in the workplace will be different and require individual work to tackle.

Know the Causes of Workplace Stress

There has been a tendency to categorise stress as a personal issue, with the onus for improving the situation falling on the individual. We’re encouraged to try yoga and meditation and work out our own boundaries for disconnecting from work. While these are all excellent ideas and can yield real benefits, in today’s “always on”, long hours culture, it pays to acknowledge that stress is often a direct result of workplace norms – many of which can be harmful to people’s mental health.

People can be more vulnerable to the effects of stress if they don’t feel in control of the way they do their work, don’t feel valued and consulted, or are treated badly. Workplace bullying, either from managers or colleagues, needs to be handled swiftly and with a zero-tolerance approach. Letting it slide can not only have catastrophic effects on stress levels in the people involved and lead to high turnover – it can also alienate other colleagues who see such behaviour going unpunished.

Tackling the Stress Epidemic

The huge scale of workplace stress can be demoralising for employers who take their duty of care towards their staff seriously. After all, a lot of stress is caused by excessive workloads and interpersonal conflicts – issues that don’t have an “easy answer” that neatly solves them without impacting anything else.

The key is effective communication with your staff. Allowing them a safe space to air their concerns can take a lot of the pressure off them. Listen to their concerns regularly, with a focus on identifying what causes their stress and where this could be improved.

Good quality training in stress management is a vital component of a healthy stress management culture. Managers and employees alike can benefit from more knowledge in this area. It can also ensure that there is more understanding and empathy for a person who might be struggling, as well as a safer environment for people to discuss their concerns.

Creating an environment that is positive for everyone’s mental health is a job as vital as any other in business and it requires action from everybody from senior leaders down.

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