Stress management in the workplace is something all businesses need to address. Workplace stress is acknowledged as a global issue affecting all professions and all workers in all countries. It is also widely acknowledged that it has a high cost in terms of human distress and reduced productivity. In fact, it is a massive problem to both individuals and organisations. The health of an organisation and the health of its workforce are inextricably linked.
Nobody is free from it. Most jobs involve some degree of stress, and excessive workplace stress can affect people at all levels within an organisation, including front-line employees, managers and senior leaders.
Everyone who has ever held a job has, at some point, felt the pressure of work-related stress. So if you are a stressed out business person or a shop floor worker, you are part of a huge club. All jobs have stressful elements but when work stress becomes chronic, it can be overwhelming — and harmful to both one’s physical and emotional health. This post is designed to help anybody, whatever your job, learn to deal with workplace stress.
Perhaps more than ever before, workplace stress poses a threat to the health of all workers and in turn to the survival of any organization. So, I really urge you to read and absorb this entire article.
Shut your office door, put your phone on mute if you’re on the computer, or turn the computer off if you’re reading this on your mobile phone and give yourself about 20 minutes to absorb this article. It isn’t going to be short, but its content is crucial, and my promise is, you will acquire some incredibly valuable information.
It will be broken down into the following sections:
- An introduction to workplace stress
- What is stress?
- What do we mean by workplace stress?
- Statistical evidence to the enormity of workplace stress
- Causes of workplace stress
- The effects of work-related stress on individuals
- The effects of work-related stress on organisations
- What is stress management?
- Managing workplace stress
In am based up in the North East of England where according to the UK stress survey in 2018, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, more than a third of people (37%) in the North East had experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of stress. The North East isn’t alone, far from it. In fact I in 4 people suffer from a mental health condition and stress across the United Kingdom. Really scary numbers!
1. An Introduction To Workplace Stress
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) show that 595,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18(526,000 in 2016/17 ). Over that period, 12.5 million working days were lost due to these conditions.
It is worse than that. In ‘Managing Mental Health in the Workplace 2018’ a report produced by Investors in People showed that 80% of UK workers have felt stress at work, with more than half (54%) saying that this stress also impacted their home life.
2. What Is Stress?
The word stress was defined by Hans Selye as an unexpected and unpredicted response of the brain and body to change.
It is also defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” A similar definition comes from the International Labour Organisation who define it as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure and demands placed upon them.”
To me the most precise definition I have come across defines stress as:
“psychological, physiological and behavioural response by an individual when they perceive a lack of equilibrium between the demands placed upon them and their ability to meet those demands, which, over a period of time, leads to ill-health”(Palmer, 1989).
Stress served a practical purpose for our distant ancestors but now poses a significant health challenge. Stress, at its most basic level, is a survival response. When we feel threatened or in danger, our body produces chemicals and hormones designed to help us fight or take flight.
In small doses, this response can save our lives. In large doses over a long timeline, however, we can suffer a number of consequences. Under constant stress, our bodies suspend the normal function of otherwise important systems and can lead to a number of health complications, like anxiety, depression, heart disease, and memory impairment.
The main subject of this article, stress in the workplace, is created by stressful situations and or environments, and it contributes to illnesses, absenteeism and employee turnover. It has far greater costs than that, and I’m not talking just about the financial ones, but more on that later.
3. What Do We Mean By Workplace Stress?
Workplace stress is defined as a harmful reaction that people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work (hse.gov.uk).
Workplace stress can occur when there is a mismatch between the requirements of one’s role, their capabilities and the resources and supports available. When this mismatch occurs there can be a harmful physiological and emotional response. This will ultimately lead to all sorts of problems.
According to the World Health Organization’s definition, occupational or work-related psychosocial stress “is the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.
4. Statistical Evidence To The Enormity Of Workplace Stress
I’ve already at the beginning of this article given you some statistics showing the enormity of this issue, but here are more to emphasise the point even more.
This is information provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s latest Labour Force Survey:
- Work is the most common cause of stress for UK adults, with 59% experiencing it.
- 9% never’ experience work-related stress
- 12% experience ‘low’ levels of work-related stress
- 21% experience moderate to high levels of work-related stress several times per week (One in five UK workers)
- 72% of Higher earners (£40,000 plus) experience work-related stress
- 32% are being less productive at work due to stress
- 1 in 10 say that stress causes them to take sick days from work
- Stress has a tangible impact on the vast majority of UK adults (81%)
- Almost half (45%) of UK workers say that their place of work does not have anything in place to help reduce employees’ stress levels and improve their mental wellbeing
- Flexi-time (21%), allowing staff to work from home (18%) and organising social events (12%) are the most common things workers say their employers currently do to help alleviate their stress
Just 8% offer counselling or life coaching services to staff, 6% offer stress management and/or resilience training and 9% arrange regular one-to-ones with managers
Pretty damming statistics, and clear evidence that the issue of workplace stress is real, and one that needs to be tackled.
5. Causes Of Workplace Stress
The causes of workplace stress are many and varied. Let me try and give you as complete a list as possible.
Some common job stressors encountered at the workplace include:
(i) Job Content, e.g.
• Monotonous tasks;
• Unpleasant tasks.
(ii) Workload and work pace, e.g.
• Having too much or too little to do;
• Working under time pressures, time constraints – inability to meet deadlines at work;
• Working too hard or too fast;
• Unrealistic targets.
(iii) Working Hours, e.g.
• Strict and inflexible working schedules;
• Long and unsocial hours;
• Unplanned working hours;
• Badly-designed shift systems;
• Working through breaks;
• Taking Work Home.
(iv) Participation and Control, e.g.
• Lack of participation in decision making;
• Lack of control (e.g.: no decision over work methods, work pace, working hours and the work environment (including safety and health aspects));
• Limited input into broader decisions by the business.
(v) Career developments, status and pay, e.g.
• Job insecurity;
• Promotional issues (e.g. lack/ unfair);
• Piece rate payments schemes;
• Unclear and unfair performance evaluation systems;
• Being over-skilled or under-skilled for the job.
(vi) Role in the organization, e.g.
• Unclear roles;
• Conflicting roles within the same job;
• Dealing with people and their problems.
(vii) Interpersonal relationships, e.g.
• Inadequate, inconsiderate or unsupportive supervision;
• Poor relationship with co-workers;
• Bullying, harassment and violence;
• Isolated or solitary work;
• No agreed/unclear procedures for dealing with problems or complaints.
(viii) Organizational Culture, e.g.
• Poor leadership;
• Poor communication;
• Lack of clarity about organizational objectives and structure.
(ix) Home-Work interface, e.g.
• Conflicting demands of work and home;
• Lack of support for domestic problems at work;
• Lack of support for work problems at work/ at home.
These many stress-related factors have the potential of causing harm to the individual worker and ultimately to the organisation.
If you recognize any of these as issues as being things that are concerning you, it is imperative that begin to resolve your issues.
6. The Effects Of Work-Related Stress On Individuals
Ok, having now looked at what workplace stress is, and it’s causes, it is now important for us to look at the possible effects it will have on the individual as well as the organisation.
We will start with the personal effects on the individual. Stress affects people in various ways, both physically and mentally. How many of these can you relate to?
Non-physical signs of stress
- feeling overwhelmed or frustrated
- feeling guilty or unhappy
- being irritable
- losing confidence and being indecisive
- thinking negatively
- struggling to focus
- having spiralling negative thoughts
- memory problems
- difficulties concentrating
- excessive worrying.
Physical signs of stress
- chest pain or a pounding heart
- reduced interest in sex
- nausea, diarrhoea or constipation
- getting colds more often
- muscle tension, pains and headaches
- episodes of fast, shallow breathing and excessive sweating
- loss or change of appetite
- sleeping problems
- Frequent headaches
- Neck ache and back pain
- Frequent colds
- Excess anxiety, worry, and nervousness
- Depress and frequent or wild mood swings
- Trouble learning
- Difficulty making decisions
- Increased frustration
- Reduced work efficiency or productivity
- Excessive defensiveness
- Problems communicating
- Constant fatigue
- Weight gainIncreased smoking, alcohol, or drug use
Of course each of the above effects could be down to other factors, and you should consult your Doctors if you have one or a multiple number of these on a regular basis. Yet stress is very much the cause of many of these for many people. It doesn’t stop at the personal effects either.
7. The Effects Of Work-Related Stress On Organisations
Now that we’ve covered the impact stress can have on employees, let’s look at how it impacts a business as a whole.
- Increasing absenteeism;
- Increasing turn-over;
- Decreasing work commitment;
- Decreasing performance and productivity;
- Increasing costs, Medical insurance & other stress-related expenses:
- Higher staff turnover:
- Increasing unsafe working practices and accident rates;
- Damaging the organization’s image by having unhealthy work environment both among its workers and externally.
It is time to look at solutions. That’s the good news. There are many things an individual and an organisation can do to reduce both the impact and effect of workplace stress.
8. What Is Stress Management?
The good news is that there are solutions that anyone can implement. We need to take a look at stress management. There are some simple, concise and systematic steps that can be followed by an employer or an employee to better manage stress and prevent injuries and ill health at work.
Let me first define what we mean by stress management.
“set of techniques and programs intended to help people deal more effectively with stress in their lives by analysing the specific stressors and taking positive actions to minimize their effects.”(Gale Encyclopaedia of Medicine, 2008).
It is so important for people and for organisations to implement a series of stress management methods. In this article I will offer many solutions that will help enormously. I can also point you to a previous article 25 Key Strategies To Achieving A Work-Life Balance https://www.larry-lewis.com/8490/25-key-strategies-to-achieving-a-work-life-balance which was part of the series helping tackle the issue of Work-life balance, a major cause of workplace stress.
This isn’t a recent problem. It has been an issue for quite some time, although it is probably at its height despite various governmental attempts at raising the profile of workplace stress. The Occupational Safety and Health Act 2005 says:
“Every employer shall, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of his employees.”
I am going to start by suggesting things an individual can do to deal with stress.
Stress can be managed at two levels:
• Individual level.
• Organisational level.
9. Managing Workplace Stress
1) AT THE INDIVIDUAL LEVEL
Take a deep breathe…
Maybe you need a bit more than that instruction (although that’s a good start).
I can’t go into all of the following methods in great detail, but I will summarise each of them for you which will enable you to make a good fist of them when you adopt them into your life.
Spot The Signs Of Excessive Stress
When stress interferes with your ability to perform in your job, manage your personal life, or adversely impacts your health, it’s time to take action. Start by paying attention to your physical and emotional health. Are you obsessing about a problem, not sleeping properly, withdrawing or avoiding people, feeling unwell, upset or angry and taking it out on yourself or those around you? Your starting point has to be to determine whether you are badly stressed and how this is impacting on your life. Next we need to find out why you are so stressed.
Determine Your Stressors
Knowing what is contributing to your stress enables you look at the right strategies to manage it. If you are stressed out by your job, you need to consider why you are stressed out. To identify the factors causing you stress, try keeping a stress inventory. For one week write down the situations, events and people which cause you to have a negative physical, mental or emotional response. Be more observant about your life, it is important you determine exactly what is stressing you out.
Adopt A Healthy Lifestyle
Not only is this probably the most crucial thing everyone needs to do, but being the author of www.healthylifestylesliving.com it shouldn’t be a surprise I have this almost on top of the list.
Diet: You’ve heard it before, having a balanced and healthy diet is key to your health. By eating small but frequent meals, you can help your body maintain an even level of blood sugar, keep your energy up, stay focused, and avoid mood swings. Check out my other website for lots of healthy eating tips. What I can say is eating lots of healthy raw food, such as vegetables and fruit, and either eliminating or reducing animal products such as meat, poultry, eggs will help greatly.
Exercise: Exercise has long been shown to be a great relief for stress. When you exercise your body produces natural “feel good” chemicals that counteract stress. You feel better, your body is healthier, better able to deal with stress. Aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes four times a week. Walking is a great option, costs absolutely nothing, and is truly really good for you. You have to do something active, to get your body moving. Once you do it really does help you in your battle with stress.
Relaxation Time: Use techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, guided visualizations, yoga and guided body scans to relax your mind and body. This is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and is absolutely essential for stress management. Relaxation techniques evoke the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response. Regularly practicing these techniques will build your physical and emotional resilience, heal your body, and boost your overall feelings ofcalm. Once a human being incorporates relaxation time into their lives, and they use the exercises I mentioned, (here is an example of an awesome relaxation technique – Deep Breathing) they will benefit greatly on both a physical and mental level.
Sleep: Getting a good night sleep is fundamental for recharging and dealing with stressful situations in the best possible way. 8 hours a night is recommended. So for those of you burning the midnight oil, time to get yourself better organised, and make time for sleep. It is a priority for anyone wanting to overcome workplace stress.
Water: Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. Water is the most important drink we can consume. It brings a considerable number of benefits. When we are hydrated our heart and blood vessels work much better, along with all of our other bodily functions—we think better, our strength and endurance are better, we feel better, we are healthier, and we will live longer.
Reduce caffeine and sugar: The temporary “highs” caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy, so cut down on your coffees and sodas. I certainly am not advocating giving up coffee, it is my favourite personal drink, but I am saying that you should drink no more than 4 cups a day.
Avoid Unnecessary Stress
Not all stress can be avoided, but there are a number of stressors in your life that you can avoid. Try these methods:
- Learn to say “no” – Refuse to accept added responsibilities when you’re already over loaded. When you don’t have any time to do anything extra, simply say ‘no’. Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities when you’re close to reaching them.
- Avoid people who stress you out – If someone causes stress in your life limit the amount of time you spend with them. If you can’t then deal with what they do that causes you stress. Talk it through with them.
- Take control of your environment – Turn off the depressing news, don’t read the newspapers, get your family to do more around the house, change your route to work. Change those things that affect you negatively. No more putting up with things, sort them out instead.
- Avoid your hot-buttons – Those things that wind you up, that always upset you or get your blood to boil, avoid them at all costs. If you can’t avoid them then find ways to deal with them better.
- Reduce your to-do list – Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary off your to do list stop. Take unnecessary pressure off yourself trying to achieve too much. Stop setting yourself up for failure.
- Deal with impending problems. You already know those situations that you think sometime ahead will blow up and cause you problems. Do whatever is necessary to put a solution in place now, so it never becomes a problem.
Change Your Situation
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future.
- Express your feelings no longer bottle your feelings up. Start to voice your thoughts no longer holding things in, but always do it in a courteous way.
- Be willing to compromise – Meet people in the middle, find a point in the middle where balance can be achieved where you’ll both be happy.
- Get support – Close relationships such as family and friends are vital in helping one through times of stress. Sharing thoughts and feelings with a trustworthy person can help reduce stress. Don’t lock it all inside. Talk to someone close to you about your worries or the things getting you down. Sharing worries is halving them.
- Be more assertive – No longer allow yourself to be pushed around, stand up for yourself, and make your own decisions.
- Reduce the noise – Switching off from technology at times, just switching off and getting away from all that noise.
- Manage time – Getting the best out of the time available to you is one of the most important things to do for stress management. Plan your days ahead, no longer just go with the flow. Create a balanced schedule; do not over-commit.
- Take time out – Take a quick break and move away from the stressful situation. Make time for some quietness each day and you’ll notice how all those seemingly urgent things that we feel we need to do, become less important.
- Break Bad Habits -Turning around your self-defeating habits will help easier handling of stress.
Adapt To The Stressor
If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
- Reframe problems – Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective.
- Look at the big picture – Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important this will be in the long run. Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
- Stop setting yourself up for failure – Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
- Focus on the positive – Take time to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, stop looking at the negatives all the time. If you see the downside of every situation, you’ll find yourself exhausted of energy and motivation. Try to think positively about things.
- Be Resilient: Resiliency is our ability to bounce back from stressful or negative experiences. Check out this article I wrote previously: How to be more resilient when faced with challenges
- Learn from the past mistakes and move towards what you know you are good at and where you have naturally built up confidence.
Accept The Stressor
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or the recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. It’s pointless trying to control the uncontrollable.Learn from the past mistakes and move towards what you know you are good at and where you have naturally built up confidence.
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable – Many things in life are beyond our control. You can’t prevent or change what has happened. Focus on the things you can control, particular choose the right reaction to your problems.
- Look for the upside – As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities they offer.
- Vent your frustrations – I’ve already said stop holding things in. Let things out, you feel better within yourself.
- Learn to forgive – Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
- Establish boundaries – Establish some work-life boundaries for yourself. That might mean making a rule not to check email from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner. Although people have different preferences when it comes to how much they blend their work and home life, creating some clear boundaries between these realms can reduce the potential for work-life conflict and the stress that goes with it.
Make Time For Fun & Laughter
Sure, it’s fun to share a good laugh. But did you know it can actually improve your health? It’s true: laughter is strong medicine. It draws people together in ways that trigger healthy physical and emotional changes in the body. Life can not be all about work. It is imperative you make time for having fun, getting yourself out, doing things that excite you. Then there’s the amazing benefit of laughter. A good laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. Laughter is good for you. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. When was the last time you had a really good belly wobble laugh?
So, there you have plenty to try implement into your life to get the better of workplace stress. I promise you adopting some of these suggestions will help you greatly. TALK TO YOUR MANAGER.
I would urge anyone who feels they are suffering from the impact of workplace stress to chat it through with their manager or boss. Entrepreneurs, my suggestion is speak to anyone you feel you can trust. Your priority has to be to come up with an effective action plan for managing the stressors you’ve identified, so you can perform at your best on the job and not let it affect your health. . While some parts of the plan may be designed to help you improve your skills
(2) Managing Workplace Stress At the Organisational Level
Every organisation will benefit from implementing stress management into their workplace to combat workplace stress. We looked at some of the benefits earlier. Of course the health of your employees is paramount. Throw in a healthy workplace culture that’s conducive to creativity and productivity, and you’ve got pretty much the most effective thing you can do for your business.
- Less sick days: Staff absenteeism is in a great part down to workplace stress. Stress Management policies implemented will reduce the amount of sick days taken by employees.
- Better place to work: Less stress within your organisation is going to create a far happier place to work. Less tension, higher productivity. Less inter personal issues a better environment. Using the old cliché, everyone’s a winner.
- Employee retention & talent acquisition: Employees who aren’t overly stressed are much more likely to stick around, and prospective employees are much more likely to work for an employer that promotes a low-stress work environment and takes the initiative to help keep their employees healthy.
- It shows you care: Actively working to reduce stress through measures like stress management programs and policy shows that you care about your employees and their health and happiness.
There are several stress management techniques that can work for your business. View a few of the ideas below.
- Address Known Issues – If there is a common theme where you are finding employees or yourself coming under lots of stress, get it sorted. Don’t ignore it, everything has a solution, an alternative to adopt.
- Open the door to stressed staff – make it clear that you are an understanding, caring organisation, looking at helping and supporting your employees.
- Wellness Programs & Initiatives – Wellness programs and initiatives have countless benefits for businesses. Such programs include: –
- Flexible working arrangement (e.g. compressed hours, job sharing, remote working);
- Leave arrangement (annual leave, Parental leave);
- Dependent care assistance (Child care arrangements and Crèche)
- General services (Employment assistant programs)
- Mental and physical health promoting activities (e.g. fitness subsidies, massage days ,cycle to work scheme, lunchtime meditation classes)
- Workshops (Training staff the important techniques of stress management, as well asw helping with work-life balance).
Other Ways Organisations Can Reduce Stress In The Workplace
- Promote leave, rest and breaks;
- Ensure workload is in line with workers’ abilities and resources;
- Ensure sufficient resources are available for staff to be able to do their jobs (time, equipment, etc.);
- Provide opportunities for workers to develop new skills and to use their existing and new skills and initiative to do their work;
- Boost workplace morale by creating opportunities for social interactions;
- Clearly set out workers’ roles and responsibilities;
- Encourage participation in decision making that affects individuals roles;
- Establish no tolerance policy for workplace discrimination;
- Create family-friendly policies to encourage work-life balance
- Put systems in place to enable employees to raise concerns
- Promotion of positive behaviours, avoidance of conflicts, sharing of information, prevention of unacceptable behaviours and developing a positive attitude towards dealing with work-related stress.
- Review working hours and shift work systems to help employees to cope with pressures external to the organisation (e.g. child care, poor commuting routes, etc.);
- Consider implementing personal development training plans
Today, companies are recognizing the link between productivity and health, and a conscious workplace. reducing work-related stress can be hugely beneficial to an employer. Make sure your organisation is one of them.
How Can I Help You
I would be delighted to discuss with any North East England organisation or further afield their concerns in relation to work-related stress and guide them towards next steps that may help resolve some of their issues/concerns.
I also would be happy to discuss coaching and workshop options designed to support employers and employees with stress management. Be one of those organisations ensuring workplace stress is a thing of the past.
Stress is the trash of modern life we all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.Danzae Pace