Stress – something that most people will experience at some point during their lives, but that many won’t talk about. It’s the elephant in many a room, sitting in the corner being ignored. But stress, its causes and its impact, is something that should be discussed openly, in both a personal and professional context.
Today’s working world is a pressurised one. Technology means the lines between work and home life can be easily blurred, which for some is a positive, but for many it means they lack the ability to switch off. Stress is something that impacts your whole life, if you’re stressed at home, it will influence your performance at work. Just as being stressed at work will impact your relationships outside of the office.
So today, on National Stress Awareness Day, what can you do as an employer to help reduce employee stress levels?
- Allow people to switch off – previous generations could leave their work at the office when they went home, but with smartphones, laptops and tablets it’s possible to take the office everywhere with you. For example, a survey by Bupa found that 82% of millennials check their work emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night, with 40% feeling they should when sick, and 32% when on holiday. In France they’ve gone as far as introducing a new law. It requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails. The aim being that to reduce stress and burnout and ensure that staff aren’t working substantially longer hours than they are paid for.
- Make it ok to not be ok – unfortunately there is still stigma attached to mental illness, with it being seen by many as a weakness. This means that often people suffer in silence and won’t admit that they’re struggling to cope. Initiatives such as national stress awareness day and the recent focus the Royals have given to mental health issues are hopefully going to break this. You can help by making it part of your company culture that it is ok to not be ok. Make it clear that your staff can ask for help without any detrimental effects. Ensure everyone has a regular 1-2-1 so that managers and leaders have time to talk about and spot any problems before they escalate.
- Allow flexibility – triggers for stress come in many shapes and sizes. For some it might be workload, certain colleagues or situations, others it might all stem from an issue at home. Juggling childcare and work responsibilities for example. While it isn’t always possible to accommodate everyone’s individual needs, try to allow for some flexibility. Changes to start or finish times for example, adjusting workloads and remit to minimise overworking.
- Outputs not inputs – it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing those that arrive early and leave late, as being your star performers that need rewarding and promoting. This culture will encourage longer and longer working hours and give your staff less time to switch off. It is also wrong to assume that just because someone is at their desk, they are working. It’s all to easy to surf the net, catch up with your favourite programme on iplayer/Netflix while still appearing to work. Focus on outputs, not inputs… At Chiumento we have set working hours but give our staff the flexibility to ‘tweak’ these if they need to, as long as their outputs remain the same. Reward those employees with the biggest sales figures, that produce the best reports, that solve the most complex IT issues… Not just those that are sat at their desk from early until late.
- Think about overall wellbeing – many organisations, especially larger ones, have official wellbeing programmes that focus on the mental and physical health of their employees. If you don’t have one or the resources available then there are many organisations that provide services designed around improving employee wellbeing. From chair based massages, stress management workshops and guides to nutrition to office yoga.
‘Stressed out employees…’ was written by Mike Burgneay, MD Chiumento Consulting. If you like what you’ve read why not follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter and read all our future advice and musings on the world of work.