Focus on Stress
How can you help your workforce to thrive, not just survive in the stressful modern business world?
Support Your Workforce to Thrive – Not Just Survive
We’re in the midst of a stress epidemic. Research by Canada Life Group Insurance suggests that 9.7 million workers say their productivity is damaged by stress and anxiety in the workplace. In all walks of life, people feel overworked, unable to switch off and the pressure is causing cracks in the surface of even the most successful businesses.
For individuals, chronic stress results in poor concentration, loss of creativity and a torrent of self-doubt and negative thoughts. Across a workforce, it can mean low staff morale and high absenteeism. But, there are effective, evidence-based solutions available.
A challenging work environment helps to motivate and get the best out of people. As leaders, we need to understand when positive pressure becomes a detrimental level of stress. A healthy and happy staff are an asset to any organisation. We must recognise the value of supporting our workforce to thrive, rather than simply survive in the modern business world.
Good vs Bad Stress
Let’s be clear about this – not all stress is a bad thing. We’ve all had that buzz of adrenaline before a presentation or an important meeting – it allows us to face the task ahead. The chemical effect of stress on the body and mind is designed to help us be alert, full of energy and able to cope with threats. It’s an effective system that’s supported humans to flourish as a species.
Problems arise when people experience negative stress over a sustained period of time. It isn’t an illness in itself, but the physical and psychological response can cause serious health issues. Chronic stress is linked to heart disease, cancer, depression and anxiety.
When a work environment is consistently fraught with pressure, even the most resilient people will start feeling overloaded. At first glance, it may seem that setting heavy deadlines, emailing at all hours and staff not taking annual leave is good for productivity. But, this is part of an old-school workplace culture that’s no longer seen as good practice. These old habits die hard, but if you don’t kill them at a certain point, something bigger in your business is eventually going to break.
Challenges for Modern Business Leaders
There are many positive steps you can take to make sure your staff are happy, healthy and productive in their work. Before you get started on creating a health and wellbeing strategy to manage stress in the workplace, there are several factors to consider:
· Everyone’s Different
Not only do people have different stress triggers, they also have differing levels of resilience. Some tasks will cause excessive worry to one person, while another will excel. Signs of stress vary too, including anything from changes in behaviour to reduced productivity. So, there’s no simple cause of workplace stress, no specific way of spotting it amongst staff and no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
· 24/7 Connection
Our modern lifestyle with access to 24/7 communication may have its benefits, but it’s not helping the stress problem. Staff spend their lunch breaks checking social media and send emails late into the night. Without digital downtime, there’s no chance for the brain to switch off. You can’t force your staff to shut down, but workplace culture has a major impact on whether this will exacerbate the issue.
· Not All Stress is At Work
Relationship problems, raising young children, caring for poorly relatives – many normal life events can cause higher levels of stress. You may think this has nothing to do with you, but when it affects people’s work it’s unwise to ignore it. Staff that feel supported during difficult times are more dedicated and more motivated in the long run.
· Staff Won’t Necessarily Talk to You About Stress
Many people don’t want to admit that stress is affecting their work, especially to their supervisor. There’s still a huge stigma and fear of appearing weak. Often staff won’t talk to you unless you find a way to create a supportive environment and train managers to spot the signs within their team.
· Sometimes Changes Have to Happen
Organisational change is one of the biggest stressors in the workplace. Yet, there are times when this is unavoidable if a business is to develop and progress. Finding ways to handle the situation that don’t cause extra tension in your workforce is a serious challenge for business leaders.
· You’re Not Immune
As a manager, director you’re equally vulnerable to stress and if you become less effective as a result, it can impact upon the whole workforce. For SMEs, this is a critical consideration – especially when the business owner is the key cog in running the business with a relatively small staff support. Familiarising yourself with stress-busting techniques will help you stay healthy and be a good role model. It’s easy to think of stress as someone else’s problem, but self-awareness is crucial to ensure you continue to make good decisions and stay productive.
How Do We Solve the Stress Epidemic?
Eliminating negative stress in the workplace isn’t an easy task, but understanding the issue is the first step.
The HSE suggests there are six main areas that can lead to work-related stress, including demands, control, support, relationships, role and change. By implementing a health and wellbeing strategy that encourages a positive culture and effective leadership, you can successfully tackle each of these in your organisation.