How to de-stress your organisation
What is work-related stress
Work related stress is defined as the harmful reaction that people have to pressures and demands placed on them by work (HSE, 2015). Work related stress is subjective and consequently hard to measure but stress and related disorders such as depression and anxiety continue to be a problem the UK workforce. Work-related stress accounts for 35% of work-related ill health and accounted for 43 days lost in 2014-2015. These illnesses and symptoms can include:
- Disturbed sleep and insomnia
- Heart rate changes
- Increased blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Appetite suppression
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Work-related stress and other mental health conditions are highlighted as causal factors in employee absences (CIPD Absence Management Survey 2006). The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests that stress costs businesses around £3.8 billion a year.
These figures show that stress is a real problem in today’s organisations. With the increase of mergers, acquisitions, organisational restructures and insecure working environments; many individuals may feel vulnerable and be overstretched at work.
Why is stress a problem in the workplace?
According to a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE, 2015) occupations and industries that report the highest rates of work-related stress are the health and roles within the public sector. The causes of work-related stress are: a workload, long working hours, a lack of managerial support and organisational change as primary factors (HSE, 2015). If individuals feel that they are trapped or feel they have no one to talk to, it can increase issues and can often lead to stress manifesting itself in physical or trigger mental illness. These illnesses and symptoms can lead to high levels of absenteeism, presenteeism, a lack of motivation and a high level of employee turnover.
Based on the causes highlighted above what can workplaces and individuals actually do to minimise the increasing problem of work-related stress?
1. Develop open communication channels
Many organisations may feel they have open communication but often the reality is very different. Having open communication channels means having an environment where all employees, regardless of position can voice opinions, concerns and have an opportunity to really be heard.
Open communication can mean talking by having less formalised meetings, regular catch-ups with employees. Increasing communication can mean encouraging teams to reflect on work, sharing information with colleagues constructively and collaborating with each other to develop solutions.
Some individuals may not feel comfortable talking internally to work employees about stressors. Providing outlets such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can really help. EAPs are external providers who offer counselling programmes, advice on financial, marital, legal and other issues to employees. Many organisations offer these services to individuals within the organisation for free as part of a benefits deal. These can go some way to relieve work-based stress.
Developing open communication channels is something that is easier said than done, but with perseverance and a desire to actually listen, this can be something that can be developed and incorporated by any organisation. Many of the workplace stress issues such as high workload can be decreased by employees having the chance to voice their opinions.
2. Have people/line managers that are separate from technical specialists
In the ‘olden days’ individuals were given promotions and people management responsibilities when they showed competence based on their technical ability. The problem with this model is that not all people who are good at their jobs are actually good at managing people.
Having a system where people managers are chosen based on their ability to encourage, empower and increase personal development may help line managers who have difficulties managing day-to-day work with their people management responsibilities. A key benefit is that this is a way to let people who are technically skilled focus on what they are good at without overloading them. This leaves the highly skilled people managers free to drive engagement and increase well-being.
3. Create and maintain a well-being strategy
It is important that this is not focussed on just the short-term fixes, e.g. having annual well being days where you bring in a Yoga instructor and a masseuse. Strategies need to start with looking at the organisational structure, values and culture. Is stress really a problem in the organisation? What do business owners, CEO/Senior leadership think about stress? Is it positive or negative? Can these views be changed to show the real impact of employee stress in the workplace? These are the questions you will need to ask yourself before developing a strategy.
4. Increase levels of autonomy
Similar to solution one, (opening communication channels) increasing levels of choice and autonomy can give individuals a sense of ownership and control over their working lives. These can be by: changing to flexible working hours, (introducing core hours and encouraging people to work around these core hours as long as their hours are completed). This simple move can allow people to feel more trusted and valued in the workplace.
Introduce working from home. Giving employees the flexibility to manage their own work to fit around commitments such as appointments and childcare by working from a what they think by including them in decision making processes and procedures can also increase autonomy and increase feelings of employee ownership and motivation.
5. Cultivate a learning culture
People are not just one dimensional. Individuals bring to work, knowledge, feelings, wishes and fears. To help employees feel valued at work, introduce a suite of learning and development courses and strategies to really develop individuals. This does not have to be expensive, utilising the skills of individuals within the organisation can also be a way to develop other people within.
Developing extra-curricular sports teams, social interest groups, talks, presentations can all encourage a learning environment that encourages and supports people. These things do not have to be organisationally driven, they can and mostly are developed organically by employees themselves. Some of these things do not have to bework-relatedd, encouraging people to try new things and explore hobbies can also be positively related to wellbeing and can decrease stress.
Ensure fairness and equity
Another source of work placed stress are feelings of unfairness or inequity. When an individual puts effort in and is not rewarded with a fair output, it can lead to feelings of inequity. When individuals are treated badly, bullied, or harassed by work colleagues, clients or customers; this also increases levels of work place stress.
To try and remove feelings of unfairness, inequity and inequality you can consider these things:
- Perform a diversity audit- these audits reveal where the trends and workforce pipelines. From this you can determine where there maybe issues with diversity and action plans can be based on this.
- Communicate about fairness and equity. Research this by using focus groups, individual interviews and looking at statistics.
- Use a reflective form of review, either 180 or 360 degree appraisal systems to give both fair and objective reviews of performance. If there is a fairness and inequality issue these appraisals can be used to find out trends and opinions in the organisation if used along side a diversity audit.
- Try and use these tools periodically, not just on a one-off basis. To increase and develop fair organisations the organisational culture and practices should include equity as part of day-to-day operations.
To conclude, de-stressing organisations does not begin and end with short term fixes. Longer term considerations such as: communicating, developing people managers, valuing wellbeing, championing diversity, increasing autonomy and cultivating a learning culture will allow you to monitor, increase and maintain employee well being efforts.