A recent survey found 68% of UK workers in full-time employment are “stressed and overwhelmed in the workplace”.
According to the World Health Organization, “Work-related 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.” While stress is a state of mind, it can lead to mental health problems. It is typically the result of too much pressure.
The signs to look out for
Stressed employees are likely to show signs of poor concentration, performance, timekeeping, morale, and motivation. They may isolate themselves from their team and take more sick days than usual.
CIPD list other signs to spot, such as:
• “Inconsistent performance.
• Increased time at work.
• Lack of holiday usage.
• Criticism of others.
• Bullying and Harassment.”
Why are we feeling more stressed?
We know the pandemic has significantly impacted mental health, but the rising cost of living and the value placed on ‘busyness’ may also be contributing. A piece on HR News notes how many employees are taking up ‘side hustles’ to secure additional income, and to enjoy a creative outlet. While managing two career roles, some workers are additionally agreeing to extra hours that they are not always compensated for.
Some staff may worry that turning down overtime will make them look less motivated.
Besides the culture of overwork, we still have a mental health stigma impacting our ability to share how we feel. There is a fear of discussing topics such as grief and loneliness. Research by Marie Curie found that 33% of people avoid talking about loss because it makes other people uncomfortable. Suppressing emotion ‘can lead to physical stress’ on our bodies and increase our risk of developing ‘anxiety and depression.’
A Deloitte survey found women are particularly facing alarming rates of stress and burnout. One-third of the women surveyed ‘have taken time off work because of mental health challenges.’
Forbes investigated the reasons for the rise in women reporting poor mental health and found that society’s ‘always on’ culture affects their ability to switch off from work.
What can leaders do to help tackle workplace stress?
Promote psychological safety
In the past year, we have frequently mentioned psychological safety. Without it, employees will not feel safe enough to speak up and share their feelings, and you as a leader will not know how what is happening in your organisation. Our post on psychological safety shares how to develop a speak-up culture.
Implement flexible working
63% of UK businesses currently offer flexible working. A recent survey found full-time in-office workers are the least happy and are increasingly becoming stressed and anxious. Flexible policies can promote better work-life balance.
Forbes found some women are afraid to request flexible work because it may ‘affect their likelihood of promotion’ or they worry that ‘their workloads won’t be adjusted accordingly.’ By implementing a flexible policy, your company will demonstrate an inclusive approach.
Suggested Read: The Impact of Proximity Bias and Flexible Working on a Woman’s Career
Stress management training can help people learn effective strategies to cope. It is advisable to also train managers specifically on how to identify staff dealing with chronic stress and help them manage their workloads more effectively. Training can give managers the confidence and skill to approach staff who are showing signs of potential burnout.
Provide creative breaks
Creativity is a great way to decrease stress. From research, we know some employees are taking on side hustles as a creative outlet.
Employees could find a creative release through cross-departmental collaboration. The shared workload can aid the burden of tasks.
Lead the way
People emulate their leaders. It is up to you to help encourage a positive work-life balance. You can demonstrate good habits by taking regular breaks, booking your holiday leave, not consistently working after hours, making sure that you take the time to de-stress, and putting your work phone away in the evening.
Make it a policy that after a specific time, employees must not email or text other colleagues regarding work-related matters, unless for an emergency.
Another way to lead is through creating dialogue around mental health. By sharing your own experiences around stress, you will encourage employees to also open up, leading to less fear and stigma.
Be mindful of overtime requests
Working overtime may lower productivity and increase stress. Pay attention to how many tasks employees are being given. If workers are frequently working extra hours, management must re-evaluate their workload. Consider as well, if too many meetings are taking place. Research shows that 24 billion hours are wasted each year due to unproductive meetings.