Workplace stress is a normal, constant part of everyday life – and in fact, a little bit of stress can actually help employees perform better and meet deadlines.
However – and this is a big however – it’s important to understand that there’s a fine line between motivational stress and just, stress.
Stress is a person’s natural response to any kind of difficult or demanding situation. It can be caused positively or negatively and can elicit both feelings of anticipation and anxiety.
Too much negative stress wreaks havoc on our bodies. It makes us more susceptible to sickness, disturbs our sleeping patterns and affects not only our physical health, but also our mental health. Ultimately, we’re left feeling more tired, irritable and depressed, which is not the greatest feeling your employees should have in the workplace.
Further to this, workplace stress is the second most common cause of compensation claims in offices around Australia. It’s not only taking its toll on your employees, but it’s also taking a toll on your finances with stress-related presenteeism and absenteeism directly costing employers up to $10.11 billion a year.
Suffice to say, it’s important to have effective stress management strategies put in place, so as to foster a better and more positive workplace culture for all employees.
But first, what are the signs of workplace stress?
Employers should be on the lookout for:
- Burnt out employees
- Increased irritability, decreased productivity
- Disinterest/poor employee morale
- More ‘emotional’ responses, frequent mood swings, frustration and impatience
- An increase in sick days or absenteeism
- Deteriorating relationships – both personal and work
- Substance abuse – alcohol, tobacco and/or drugs
- Lower work quality, bad time management
- Physical reactions like sweating, fatigue, headaches, heart palpitations and insomnia
- Isolation, silence, social withdrawal
- High staff turnover
- A decrease in punctuality
- Long-hour work culture/unhappy work environment
What can employers do to manage stress at work?
The first step is to recognise and understand when your employees are stressed out at work. If you’re not already doing so, schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your staff to discuss their current projects and whether or not they need extra help or support. This would also be a good time to gauge where their head is at, in terms of work and life.
Other effective stress management techniques employers could utilise include:
1. Exercise Programs
Often, exercise is the last thing any employee feels like doing at work, but no-one can negate the fact that it’s a powerful stress reliever. When we exercise, our body produces endorphins; chemicals in our brain that act as feel-good neurotransmitters. These endorphins work similarly to morphine, in that they trigger a positive feeling in the body and reduce our perception of pain.
You’ll also find that exercise helps employees forget about their workplace stresses as they’re too busy focusing on the singular task at hand. Essentially, meditation in motion, it’s a great way to help clear heads and solidify a strong team culture.
Employers could look at establishing weekly competitive sport activities like Oz Tag, Basketball or Soccer. Gym memberships, boot camps or even, in house-exercise rooms are another great way to fit exercise into employees’ daily work routines.
An employee’s performance can contribute to workplace stress. If an employee feels like they’re not performing as well as they should be, it can result in poor self-esteem and overall dissatisfaction at work. To address this, employers should turn to additional training services to help enable staff become experts in their chosen fields.
How employees feel about their jobs and themselves directly affects their mindset and behaviour. Having an important title, position or expert/specialist stance in a field can have positive outcomes on an individual’s attitude, performance and work ethic.
For employees to become invested in an upskill program for their staff is great. It reinforces to staff that you care about where their interests lie and employees feel reassured that they possess the skills to excel at their work.
3. Encouraging healthy food choices
Too often do people turn to traditional “comfort” foods when they’re stressed. Indulging in high-fat foods like pizza, pasta, ice-cream and lollies always seems like a great option initially, but it’s a fast one-way track to lethargy, high cholesterol and increased blood pressure.
Instead, employers should encourage healthy food choices in order to stave off intense workplace stress. Low-fat, high-fibre and carbohydrate-rich meals with plenty of fruit and vegetables can help provide a natural source of energy, better emotional responses and give employees the nutrients they need to boost their immune system. To do this, employers could provide daily/weekly fruit baskets, well-stocked fridges and organised lunches.
4. Improve communication
Effective communication can improve teamwork, decision making, problem solving and general office sentiment, ten-fold. It’s therefore important for employers to establish clear channels of communication between them and their staff with transparency, approachability and understanding fundamental components to this strategy.
Opening the lines for clear communication between all and attentively listening to issues being brought up will reduce workplace stress and feelings of isolation. Employee concerns are thus minimised as you’re lending an empathic ear to their problems. It’s here where action is also important. It’s not enough to simply listen to a problem being brought up by an employee – as an employer, it’s up to you to resolve this problem in such a way that it effectively benefits both parties.
5. Cultivate a healthy and beneficial workplace culture
More than ever, having a great workplace culture is important – this is what makes new recruits feel welcome, what makes great employees stay and perhaps most importantly, what makes great companies succeed.
To improve on your workplace culture, employers could organise social events away from the office, arrange team building activities, establish zero tolerance policies on bullying, discrimination and harassment and make sure management actions comply with organisational values.