For National Stress Awareness Month, Benenden Health’s Head Matron Cheryl Lythgoe provides insight into how employers can effectively manage employee stress amid the COVID-19 pandemic…
Workplace stress is the harmful reaction that people have to undue pressure and demands placed on them at work, with research last year revealing that the jobs of nearly half of all employees in the UK have got more stressful in the past two years.
At a time when employees are largely continuing to work remotely, it’s especially vital that businesses have a plan in place to support their wellbeing and alleviate potential stresses associated with the pandemic, their workload and uncertainty about the future.
What are the common causes of workplace stress?
With our 2020 report into mental health in the workplace finding some 58% of employees say their mental wellbeing had been negatively impacted by their work at some point, identifying the leading causes of stress in the workplace is important so, as an employer, you can take proactive steps to minimise or eliminate the risk all together.
Our research found that there are a number of key causes to workplace stress, including bullying and the pressure of deadlines along with increased workloads and worries about finances – two issues that are likely to be of increased concern in the current climate.
These factors can make employees feel helpless, lose confidence, underperform and may even show signs of anger towards colleagues.
How to identify if your employees might be suffering from workplace stress
Each employee will show signs of stress in their own way, but with the majority now working remotely it can be harder as an employer to identify some of the typical signs, which may be physical in nature.
One tell-tale sign to look out for is employees working longer hours. When working from home, the line between home life and work can become blurred and with stress often negatively impacting on productivity, employees may be working longer hours to keep up, or even over the weekends, making the situation even worse.
Sudden changes in behaviour can be another sign that employees are dealing with stress at work. If your team holds regular video conference meetings, take note of the employees who are quieter, seem more distracted than usual or are uncharacteristically restless.
The best and simplest way of identifying workplace stress whilst remote working, however, is to check in regularly with colleagues individually. With significantly less visibility between employers and employees whilst offices are closed, making time for individuals to share concerns or stresses is vitally important so that issues can be addressed before they have a significant impact on personal wellbeing and business operations.
With uncertainty around the pandemic continuing and potential changes to business operations forthcoming as restrictions are relaxed, it is possible that employees are facing significant stress and anxiety at this time, so understanding these concerns and reassuring them can have a significant benefit on their mental wellbeing.
How to reduce employee stress in the workplace
As an employer, it is important that you have a strategy in place to reduce your employees’ stress at work. This is of even greater significance whilst working remotely.
Here are four simple things you can do to help reduce the threat of stress affecting staff during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
- Offer support– whilst supporting workers internally is great, the capacity and expertise within businesses may not be sufficient to successfully address the needs of employees. There are a number of specialist organisations who employers can turn to in order to provide the support and advice that your staff need. When looking for a provider of this service, you might want to consider whether they offer 24/7 telephone support as this can be of real benefit to employees, especially those who would feel more comfortable raising personal issues anonymously than discussing with their manager or colleagues.
2. Encourage flexible working– recognising the importance of your employees’ work life balance is vital in allowing them to mentally and physically switch off. Especially whilst remote working, giving employees the opportunity to be flexible with their hours can make a huge difference to their wellbeing and reduce the threat of stress, especially for those with caring commitments.
- Respect your employees’ personal time– as an employer it is important to recognise your employees need time away from work, especially as their workplace is now typically in their own homes. Encouraging workers to take time away from their desk for their lunch, to exercise daily or to switch off from work at the end of the working day – literally and mentally – can be of great benefit to mental wellbeing. This can also remove any perceived expectation that employees should be working outside of typical office hours.
- Encourage movement– as well as being great for your physical health, movement has also been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness and concentration as well as generate a higher level of cognitive function. As an employer, you should encourage your employees to be as active as possible, with team sessions a great idea to keep fit, healthy, and connected while working remotely – making sure that any activities can be completed by the entire team. If lunchtime workouts aren’t right for your workplace, consider encouraging walking meetings so your employees can spend some of their working day moving.
It’s more important than ever for employers to monitor the behaviour and wellbeing of their employees, so they can successfully identify signs of stress and support workers during these uncertain and changing times.
Whilst businesses continuing to face significant challenges and important decisions as the nation continues on its roadmap out of coronavirus restrictions, even small steps can keep teams healthy, happy and productive. By investing in these now, employers can put themselves in a strong position as life and business slowly begins to return to something more like normality.
For more information about Benenden Health and to download its report ‘The elephant that never left the office: Why stigma is still preventing employees from telling their boss the truth about their mental wellbeing in the workplace’, visit https://www.benenden.co.uk/mwr2020