Work related stress is a pervasive issue that has been extensively researched, discussed, and documented. Research by the UK mental health charity Mind found that work is one of the primary causes of stress, with 34% of respondents indicating that their work life was very or quite stressful. This statistic outranked financial worries or debt (30%) and health problems (17%). For some employees, stress at work even led to adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms in their personal life to relieve stress, such as drinking during or after work.
April marks Stress Awareness Month, a unique opportunity for HR leaders and professionals to prioritise employee mental health and well-being at their company or assess how things are going internally.
Let’s explore the strategies and approaches that can help us make our workplaces healthier and happier environments for everyone.
Table of Contents
What Causes Workplace Stress?
The excessive pressures to meet deadlines, exceed expectations, and navigate office politics can affect our mental and physical health. So when it comes to the causes of workplace stress, there are several factors at play:
- Job Demands: High workload, tight deadlines, and a lack of control over tasks can leave employees feeling overwhelmed and burnt out.
- Interpersonal Relationships: Difficult colleagues or managers, office politics, and poor communication can all lead to tension and conflict, adding to work stress.
- Organisational Culture: A culture that values competition over collaboration, lacks support for work-life balance, or neglects employee wellbeing can create an environment where stress in the workplace thrives.
- Changes in the Workplace: Restructuring, layoffs, or new management can all create uncertainty and anxiety for employees.
Understanding the root causes of work related stress is the first step in addressing it. By identifying the factors contributing to work stress, we can take proactive steps to create a healthier work environment supporting employee well-being and productivity.
How Does Workplace Stress Affect People?
As HR leaders, it’s important to understand work-related stress and its impact on employees. A study by the American Psychological Association found that a stressful work environment can lead to a physical or mental health problem emerging. Some early on-set examples of psychological or physical symptoms are:
- Frequent headaches
- Sleep disturbances
- Short temper or mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating.
When stress becomes a chronic condition, it can also result in more serious health issues, such as anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. Moreover, it can contribute to long-term ill-health, depression, obesity, and heart disease. This affects the employee’s health and can lead to decreased productivity and increased absenteeism, ultimately affecting the company’s bottom line.
Raising Stress Awareness in the Workplace
Promoting work stress awareness and managing stress not only benefits employees but also contributes to the overall success of organisations. Here are a few major changes organisations notice when focusing on stress and raising stress awareness.
1. Positive Working Environment
When it comes to creating a positive work environment, promoting work stress awareness can be a game-changer. By acknowledging the challenges of work-related stress, organisations demonstrate that they value the well-being of their employees and are committed to supporting them. This fosters trust and positivity and leaves room for co-workers to develop good relationships.
2. Reduced Stigma Around Mental Health
The stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace can be a major barrier to employees seeking support when they need it. Openly discussing the impact of work-related stress and promoting healthy coping mechanisms can create a culture where existing mental health problems are a priority, and employees feel safe to seek help. This can lead to improved mental health outcomes, increased job satisfaction, and a more inclusive workplace.
How Organisations Can Manage Stress
Research demonstrates that introducing a workplace wellness programme including interventions to manage stress leads to decreased employee absenteeism, increased productivity, and significantly lower perceived stress levels. So if you’re looking for a change, you can include work-related stress interventions and workplace programmes to address work stress in your organisation.
1. Educational Resources
Consider offering educational resources to your employees. This could include workshops and training sessions on stress management techniques, online resources and tools for stress reduction, or guest speakers and experts who can provide insights on stress-related topics. By providing your employees access to these resources, you’re empowering them to take control of their stress levels and improve their overall well-being.
2. Wellness Programmes and Activities
Think about implementing wellness programmes and activities in your workplace. Mindfulness and meditation practices, physical activities like yoga or walking clubs, and healthy eating and nutrition programmes can help reduce stress and promote a healthier workplace culture. These programmes benefit team members and can lead to improved productivity and job satisfaction.
3. Supportive Workplace Policies and Practices
Look into supportive workplace policies and practices that can help reduce stress levels. Flexible work arrangements like telecommuting or flexible hours can help employees balance work and personal responsibilities better. Employee assistance programmes can offer counselling and support for employees struggling with stress or other mental health conditions. Open communication and feedback policies can help employees feel more supported and connected to their colleagues.
How Team Members Can Manage Work-Related Stress
On a more individual level, there are a few methods every team member can try to manage stress in the workplace. Here are a few more tips on how to gain perspective and cope with stress:
- Analysing stressors: Keep note of stressful situations, why you’re feeling stressed, and how you react to them. Understand your body’s automatic reaction to stressful situations and attempt to train yourself out of that unhealthy response.
- Creating health responses to stress: When you feel stressed or feel anxious, take a minute to breathe and count to 10. Albeit simple, these types of coping techniques will help prevent you from entering a vicious stress cycle.
- Getting a good night’s sleep: Feeling tired never helps. Aim to keep a consistent sleep schedule and sleep around 7-8 hours every night, the ideal amount of sleep an adult needs to operate at their optimal level.
- Getting time off: Work your allocated 8 hours and then log off. Establish boundaries and completely disconnect from all work-related topics. Never forget to spend time on your life balance.
- Staying positive: Try to have positive thoughts instead of always thinking of things in a negative light. Write three positive things about your daily day, and practice affirmation or gratitude exercises.
- Speaking to your team: Make your team or senior management aware that you are struggling so they can help you better combat work-related stress. Discuss ways and practical steps to reduce negative thoughts or other pressures.