November 20, 2018
How to reduce stress in the workplace – 10 proven methods
All too often I hear the word ‘stress’. People use it randomly, they say thinks like ‘oh I’m stressed out’, or ‘it’s all so stressful’. But, do these people really know what true stress feels like?
Stress is a serious condition, and when left to fester it can actually turn life threatening. The physical effects on the body are startling, and then the mental health effects roll in on top. In the US alone, $190 billion are spent every year on annual healthcare costs due to stress in the workplace. If you thought Europe faired better, you’re wrong, with a bill of 20 billion euros annually.
Stress is a huge problem.
Not only does it affect health and wellbeing, but it costs a business cash too. Productivity is down, morale is out of the window, and nobody is happy. If you want a thriving, happy workplace, you need to do something about stress.
Thankfully, this article is going to help you out.
What is Stress?
What is stress really? It’s not something you can see, touch, or smell, but a sensation, a feeling. As with many issues which relate to mental health, these are often overlooked because they don’t manifest physically in a visual manner. For instance, someone with a broken leg will be given sympathy in buckets. Someone with stress won’t be.
I mentioned earlier that people use the term ‘I’m stressed’ very easily, but it’s an unfair assumption, because true stress is far from something to take lightly. The sheer number of sick days employees take every year due to stress-related problems is staggering.
To define stress is difficult. Stress is a reaction to any type of pressure or change. Whilst a little stress is a good thing, because it acts as a motivator, high amounts of stress, or prolonged periods of stress are damaging.
Stress really goes back to the days of the cavemen and women. Our bodies have what is called a ‘fight or flight’ response. This is what kept these prehistoric beings safe from all manner of predatory creatures. When your mind senses what could be a threat, e.g. a situation which is going to cause extreme pressure or stress, it kicks into survival mode, and it increases a hormone called cortisol. Adrenaline spikes, breathing becomes shallower, and every part of the body is on high alert.
Of course, there are no predators about to jump out at any moment, but your mind is looking for a threat. This hormone, cortisol, increases whenever you are in a stressed mode. It is what creates a lot of the symptoms which I’m going to talk about in our next section. When cortisol levels are high for a long period of time, it can be dangerous for your health.
Now you understand what stress is, how does that tie into a workplace situation?
Anything can be a stressor to any individual. Stress is a very independent and personal deal. If someone is dealing with a personal problem at home, and they are given a large project to completely quickly at work, that spill over could cause work to become the big stressor in their life. If someone is struggling with their workload in general, or if there are many changes occurring in the workplace, it could all cause someone to feel particularly stressed.
It’s a vicious cycle in so many ways because the more stressed a person becomes, the more they don’t sleep, don’t eat, and the symptoms take over. These mean that person is likely to make more mistakes, which stresses them out even more.
Learning how to recognize and manage stress is vital for overall health and wellbeing, but also for business success and productivity.
Symptoms of Stress
As a person, it’s a good idea to be able to recognize stress. Not everyone does at first, they just think it’s part and parcel of life. It’s not. As an employer, it’s important to be able to recognize symptoms and signs that a particular staff member might be going through a stressful period.
These are the common symptoms of stress:
- A sensation or feeling of being overwhelmed, e.g. can’t see the wood for the trees
- Sleep disruption, either not being able to get to sleep, or constantly waking up
- Constant tiredness regardless of how much sleep you actually manage to get
- Regular headaches
- Loss of appetite, followed by periods of extreme hunger
- Not being able to concentrate or focus on one thing
- High blood pressure
- Low mood
- Agitation or irritability at the smallest thing, usually meaning that you snap at those closest to you
- Becoming socially isolated, not wanting to out and do the things you normally enjoy
- Racing thoughts
- Shallow breathing
- Worst case scenario thoughts
- Chest pains
- Turning to unhealthy habits to cope, e.g. drinking, smoking, etc.
Why is Stress A Productivity Killer?
From reading the list of symptoms above, you can instantly see why stress is a killer of productivity. Someone who isn’t sleeping, isn’t eating properly, is troubled by headaches, and who can’t focus on one single task is not going to be a productive employee. Mistakes are likely to be made, and this further exacerbates the entire issue.
Stress can also cause disharmony between colleagues in the workplace. A person who is stressed isn’t likely to deal with situations as calmly or as rationally as they normally would. Arguments over small things can break out, and because the other person doesn’t realize their colleague is suffering from stress, they take it personally.
As an employer, it is part and parcel of the company’s responsibility to have an effective stress management awareness package in place. Shortly I’m going to talk about ways you can help to reduce stress in the workplace overall, but for now, realize the vital importance of understanding stress as a real condition, and not belittling it as something someone is going through, simply for not being ‘strong enough’.
Every single person will go through a period of stress at some point in their lives, but the hardest thing is often living with the very unfair stigma attached to it.
Steps to Reduce Stress in The Workplace
Now you know why stress is so damaging, and you understand that you need to reduce it, just how do you go about it?
Here are ten steps to explore for reducing stress in the workplace.
Have an Open Door Policy
Talking things out is a vital part of dealing with stress, but many employees feel that they can’t approach their manager. A lot of this is feeling that their manager is going to assume they’re incompetent and can’t cope with pressure. This of course isn’t the case in reality.
Businesses should have an open door policy, and make employees feel they can approach supervisors and managers with any issues they might be having. They also need to feel that they’re being listened to and supported, and not judged.
Avoid Piling The Pressure on Individuals
We hear a lot about the advantages of team work, but in terms of reducing stress, team work is vital. As a business, you’re going to need to hit deadlines on a regular basis, but piling on pressure and hard deadlines on just one person is a fast track towards a stressful situation for them. Instead of placing the responsibility squarely on just one individual, create teams who work together towards a common goal.
Team work is a less stressful situation, because you’re not alone, and responsibility is shared fairly and equally. Distributing the workload means nobody is left floundering under too many tasks.
Give Employees Access to Confidential Counseling
Whilst it’s up to the employee to actually accept the offer of counseling, having a confidential service within the organization is a good idea. This could be through a third-party company, e.g. a local health care organization, but give your staff access to this, and let them know that the service is completely confidential.
This ensures that if any of your staff members are going through personal difficulties, they know they can speak to someone, get the help they need, and it’s not going to affect their working life as much as it would do otherwise. Similarly, if they are feeling stressed because of work, they can talk this out and then come to you to discuss ways to change it, with a lot more confidence.
Increase Awareness of Stress Management
As part of your staff’s mandatory training, include stress management. By making staff aware that the company recognize stress, it helps to tear down the stigma. It also gives staff more confidence to tackle any situations which are causing them to be stressed, because they feel they’re going to be listened to.
These types of stress management training sessions are also useful for giving useful self-help tips on how to manage stress at home. For instance, talking about how exercise is useful, the importance of getting enough sleep, talking things over, etc. A lot of dealing with stress comes from within.
Give Staff Somewhere to Escape to
If you don’t have a breakout area, or a place where staff can go for a quick time out, it’s time to get one. These areas have proven to be extremely useful for a variety of different reasons, including a place for staff to go to collaborate on work-related ideas, away from the office itself. In addition, having a space to head to when things get a little too much, gives that person space for the five minutes they need. This is often enough to calm down, get a little perspective and re-focus.
This space doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, it can simply be an outdoor area which is cordoned off for staff use, or a canteen which is open all day.
Encourage Overall Wellness
By encouraging staff wellness, you’re doing your bit for reducing stress in general. Someone who has a healthier lifestyle, e.g. they exercise regularly, eat properly, socialize, and have interests outside of work, are much less likely to be affected by stress to the same degree as someone who has a less healthy lifestyle.
Think about things like on site gyms, or discounted access to nearby gyms for your employees, consider car sharing initiatives to help staff connect outside of work, and encourage more exercise, which is a big help for reducing stress.
Incorporate Regular Company Social Events
If your company has a high level of staff morale, stress is much less likely to be a huge problem. On the other hand, if your employees do not socialize outside of work, and the feel is very much individual rather than team orientated, stress is probably more of an issue.
You can help this by organizing regular company social events. For instance, a staff get-together every month, perhaps charity drives to benefit local organizations, and staff meals near the holidays. Basically, you’re creating a team feel, so nobody feels like they have to deal with everything alone.
Keep Morale High
Morale is key in reducing stress, so make sure that you know exactly what you need to do in order to keep your staff happy in their jobs. Of course, nobody is going to be happy 100% of the time, but the small things really work.
For instance, praising someone on a job well done, ensuring your staff feel valued and listened to, having that open door policy we talked about earlier, and ensuring your managers are role models, and not feared, is vital. Someone with a high level of morale is more confident, and therefore feels more able to deal with periods of stress.
Consider Variable Working Patterns
It could be the case that staff feel stressed because they’re juggling too many balls in the air, e.g. home commitments and work commitments. You can help this by offering different working patterns, either some of the time or all of the time. More and more people are choosing to work from home, either as part of a static company or as a freelancer. This enables them to juggle their home and work commitments much easier.
As a company, be more open to different ways of working in difficult situations, and allow staff to choose what works for them, provided it also works for the business.
Talk to Staff About Changes
One of the most stressful situations for any member of staff is when a huge bombshell about their work is dropped on them. For instance, a new manager, a shake up, possible redundancy rumors, or the like.
You cannot expect your staff members to thrive in uncertain situations, so instead of avoiding difficult conversations, speak to your staff about possible changes, consult with them, ask what they think, and if you notice any untrue rumors doing the rounds, nip them in the bud before they have the chance to affect anyone adversely.
It is Time to Reduce Stress at Work
These are ten ways you can work to reduce stress in the workplace, and the great thing is that none of them are particularly difficult to implement. Reducing stress is often about allowing someone to talk about their feelings and what is causing them to be stressed in the first place. From there, an action plan can be put into place to right the issue.
The stigma attached to stress is something which causes the problem to become ten times worse. Ensure that your company recognize stress for the serious problem it is, and create a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’, rather than putting undue stress on just one individual.
Stress is a huge problem worldwide, but with smart management techniques and more awareness, it can be beaten.