April marks Stress Awareness Month – an opportunity for businesses to reflect on the practices in place to prevent stress in the workplace, says Rosue Hyam.
During the pandemic, work-related stress became a real problem for businesses in the UK, with stress, depression, and anxiety accounting for over half of all work-related ill health between 2021 and 2022. People were struggling to navigate the unknown working environment.
Our recent Stress at Work report revealed that 86 percent of employees would feel comfortable voicing feelings of stress at work. This is an encouraging stat, but for the 14 percent, it is the responsibility of employers to find ways to further support their employees dealing with stress and encourage open communication at work.
I have got a few suggestions for how businesses can support their employees with stress, all while improving performance.
Nurture an environment for open dialogue
It would be impossible, and perhaps unhelpful, to eliminate all stress. At small levels, stress can be helpful to motivate people to complete tasks. It is a short climb between this level of stress, and the level of stress that can overwhelm employees and reduce productivity. Everybody has a limit.
To tread on the right side of this line, it is important that you can understand how your employees are feeling. Sometimes the signs that someone is suffering under too much stress are obvious. But a lot of the time, they are invisible or subtle, and many employees feel under-equipped to notice these signs.
Employers must encourage open communication to recognise when employees are experiencing stress. Employees will not always do this themselves, so managers need to take action. As one example, instead of launching straight into business, you can start meetings with open discussions about people’s concerns. Anything that brings the topic up will encourage people to feel more open about it.
Build support into the system
While fostering a nurturing environment for employees to talk about their concerns is important, it will not solve all problems. You also need to build support into the structure of the business. That way, instead of being an added extra, it will become a necessary part of your business operations.
One of the ways you can do this is by building in sessions to discuss wellbeing. Not only will this encourage people to talk about their concerns, it will also provide a framework from which to deal with those problems. It will also send a clear signal to your employees that you care about their health and happiness, and are willing to take the necessary actions to secure it.
Introduce attractive office perks
Health and wellness benefits like private health subsidies and meditation app subscriptions will, of course, help employees manage their stress. They will also communicate that you as an employer take their mental health seriously, which will boost their confidence to talk about it when needed.
You can also look at other, indirect means of preventing stress. Providing communal food during working hours is a brilliant way of doing this for several reasons. It provides an opportunity for co-workers to chat with each other in an informal environment. It also reduces the time needed for employees to buy or prepare their food, as well as reducing the cost burden they’ve been exposed to over the past year of high inflation.
Integrate progressive working policies
It would be impossible to give advice about employee stress without mentioning progressive or ‘flexible’ working policies. In a new Just Eat for Business survey published this April, ‘maintaining a work-life balance’ was the second most common contributor to stress in the workplace. Almost a quarter of all working people referred to it as a stressor.
The best way to deal with that aspect of their stress is to enable a better balance. According to our new survey, people believe that ‘flexible working hours’ is the best way to do that. There are many ways to do that – and it’s up to you to decide what works best for your company.
Enable opportunities to be active
One of the biggest challenges in the modern world of work is its sedentary nature. Most office jobs today require people to sit down for long periods. Yet, research has proven a link between exercise and people’s ability to manage stress. If you want to prevent your employees from suffering overwhelming stress, offering opportunities for them to exercise would be a good way to do so.
You could do this by setting up activities outside working hours, such as running clubs and yoga sessions. But to avoid biting into employees’ own time, you can also encourage employees to exercise during work. You could encourage walking meetings, or even install standing desks to reduce sitting time.
Use one or a combination of these methods to reduce stress in your workplace, which will in turn will make your company a more appealing place to work.
Rosie Hyam is People Partner aty
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.