Three strategies to manage employee stress

For too long, talking about mental health at work has been taboo

Stress is part of every job. It’s the way our body naturally reacts to being under pressure. Some level of it is inevitable and can act as a good motivator; however, too much stress is debilitating, especially when it never seems to let up.

Employees who are constantly stressed will be more prone to burnout, insomnia, and irritability. They will more likely create conflict with co-workers or withdraw from workplace life. Here are three strategies for managers and HR professionals to manage that stress.

Training for HR and line management on mental health, wellbeing, and resilience

For too long, talking about mental health at work has been taboo.

Workers fear potential negative consequences of disclosing this information to employers, while line managers and business leaders can feel uncomfortable starting a conversation about mental health.

In these conditions, employees whose mental health is under strain because of prolonged stress may not feel comfortable sharing this with employers. The sense of shame for not “handling” the pressures well could add to the stress.

Mental health awareness training for all employees can help dispel these fears, especially if employees know they can access more mental health help should they need it.

Providing specific training for line managers and those responsible for others’ welfare can also be invaluable. 

Mental health training for line managers should include the following: 

●      Spotting the signs – How to spot behavioural changes and symptoms in an employee suffering from stress or mental health issues. 

●      Communication skills – How to talk about it and what words are best to use/avoid. 

●      Workplace adjustments and return to work – training for managers to help people stay at work where possible or integrate individuals back into the team for an effective and successful return to work.

Employers may be travelling blind on levels of stress within their workplace.

This can be the case in businesses large and small, especially as employees may now be in the physical “workplace” rarely.

Doing a survey or audit to understand how much stress your employees are experiencing can let you overcome that blindness. Getting an outside specialist organisation to complete the survey can help employees feel comfortable sharing information they might not share with their boss.

But you don’t need to do a survey necessarily – a simple audit from HR logs can show you if employees in certain areas seem to need sick leave more than others. And a simple chat can show whether your company has a culture of “long hours”.

This data can help you target training for managers who might be putting too much pressure on their team without realising it.

Build and sustain a culture of good boundaries around the working day

Ideally, workplace stress shouldn’t follow a worker home.

But smartphones and endless emails can leave employees feeling like they always have to be “on” – from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep.

While there will often be times when some work is needed outside regular business hours, letting this become the norm can easily lead to burnt-out employees. People need time to rest and recharge if they are going to perform well.

Try to make clear when emails and chat messages sent on weekends or outside of work hours can be left for the next working day. Better yet, do your best not to send such messages outside the working day. A scheduling tool for your email can help with this if all your best ideas happen to strike you at 10 pm.

Let managers and employees know that something might need to change if there is consistently too much work to do during regular hours.

Provide training

Practical training sessions for employee groups will help employees maximise their performance or help to build resilience and manage their responses to stress.

Sometimes stress isn’t caused by too much work but by an employee struggling to cope with what others might consider a normal workload.

There are some positions that will naturally lead to stressful situations like tight deadlines or big pitches.

Training sessions for employees or groups of employees could help. Experienced employees can share strategies they use to manage the normal stresses of workplace life, from email filters to task triaging.

This can build resilience across teams so that when a stressful situation arrives, employees are equipped to deal with them – or ask for help if they can’t.

By Sarah Carter, Head of Account Management, Onebright.

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