Empowering Employees: Taking Charge of Workplace Stress Management

April 23, 2024 thehrobserver-hrobserver-stressmanagement

Work-related stress usually occurs when employees are experiencing excessive demands from their workplace. It is often a combination of multiple issues, which makes it complex to identify, understand and respond to.

Many studies have been published that show an increasing number of employees reporting that they have experienced work-related stress. Whilst in some countries, there is a correlation between stress and variables such as the industry or the size of the business, this is not applicable across all nations.

Research shows that high-stress levels can negatively impact organisational performance, manifesting as increased sickness absence, high employee turnover and reduced levels of employee engagement. Ultimately, these issues may affect organisational performance in terms of productivity and profitability.

This potential negative impact has led to the increasing number of organisations developing a ‘workplace stress reduction strategy’ supported by appropriate policies, procedures, and practices. When the strategy and activities are positioned at the organisational level (rather than an off-the-shelf product), the strategy and its activities can be customised to their specific circumstances. Depending on the type of organisation, it may be appropriate to have further customisation at the team or individual level.

A critical issue is trying to understand what is causing the stress so that appropriate responses can be delivered. Otherwise, organisations may spend money on initiatives that are unlikely to have maximum impact. It is very important that organisations and the leadership team understand the issues from a variety of perspectives, not just their own. Involving employees sends an important message to the whole organisation about having a voice. Issues could be captured as part of an employee satisfaction survey, through focus groups or perhaps via an anonymous suggestions tool. 

What can cause workplace stress?

  • Difficult relationships with line managers
  • The quantity of work being too excessive for the time available
  • Poor work environment
  • Physical activities
  • Lack of safety
  • Insufficient training for self or others
  • Negative relationships in the team
  • Inefficient or inappropriate processes
  • Frustration through a perceived lack of autonomy
  • Not being able to take rest breaks

Line managers play a critical role in supporting their team and should hopefully be able to identify problems early. Some issues may be resolved informally and speedily; however, it is important to remember that they aren’t specialists and, therefore, should normally focus on signposting additional support. They should act as role models in terms of hours worked and work-life balance; otherwise, people may perceive an expectation that very long hours are required of all staff.

There are several actions that organisations could consider:

  • Provide proactive activities and resources to support mental health
  • Provide regular opportunities for feedback – and invite new ideas
  • Close the loop by responding to the feedback 
  • Ensure that managers undertake a learning needs analysis of their team every year to ensure they can carry out their roles well and have the appropriate training, resources, and support.
  • Openly encourage employees to consider their work life balance – and managers should ‘walk the talk.’
  • Require line managers to have regular contact with their team to identify any specific challenges or issues. 
  • Routinely review and update HR policies that are linked to workplace stress.
  • Investigate the opportunities to provide healthy food options if there is an employee restaurant.
  • Offer access to an independent wellbeing service.
  • Consider subsidising equipment or events that may reduce workplace stress

The onus doesn’t need to sit exclusively with the employer; employees can also undertake activities that might help them to manage their workplace stress. This could include:

  • Being mindful when managing their diary so that there is time for breaks
  • Considering their work-life balance
  • Communicating with their line manager about any concerns
  • Identifying any training needs
  • Trying to eat more healthily and staying hydrated
  • Undertaking regular exercise
  • Using any wellbeing services that are offered by the organisation 

It is important to note that it isn’t possible or desirable to remove all stress as it is a complicated and multi-faceted concept. However, organisations and employees working together may be able to improve the working environment.

Professor Fiona Robson

Head of Edinburgh Business School and Social Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai

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